"It's obviously a possibility," general manager Sandy Alderson said of Santana relinquishing his April 1 assignment. "But right now we're still shooting for the opening of the season."
Because Santana did not throw off a mound in either Venezuela or Florida over the winter, the Mets could not gauge his status until he arrived at camp last week. The left-hander climbed atop a mound on Sunday for the first time since August, throwing 20 pitches without apparent issue. He then threw another bullpen session on Wednesday.
A day later, Santana met with team orthopedist Dr. David Altchek, who determined that Santana is not yet strong enough to continue his normal spring progression. Santana, who was originally scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on March 2, will instead long-toss at camp with the aim of playing "somewhere in the March 10-15 range," according to Alderson.
"I think it was a matter of observation, and sort of a mutual recognition that maybe things needed to be backed off a little bit," Alderson said. "It's not a soreness thing. I wouldn't even call it a weakness. It's just where he is in his program is somewhat behind based on his winter and the injury last year, and his loss of the second half of the season.
In his return from major shoulder surgery last year, Santana battled first through an ankle injury, then an inflamed lower back that forced him to the disabled list. Because he did not need to rehab from surgery this winter for the first time in years, Santana did not resume throwing off a mound until arriving in Port St. Lucie.
That put him further behind schedule than the Mets expected -- though perhaps not to a damaging extent. Should Santana indeed make his Grapefruit League debut by the middle of the month, the Mets believe he can still build up enough arm strength to pitch on Opening Day.
All that's clear now is that his margin for error has thinned.
"There's no structural issue," Alderson said. "It's just a matter of building up strength, so he'll be long-tossing before he gets back on the mound. We just expect that his schedule will have been delayed somewhat."