JUPITER, Fla. -- One day after the Mets named Jon Niese their Opening Day starter, manager Terry Collins acknowledged that Johan Santana will not be ready to break camp with the team.
"He's not where he needs to be in his long-toss program," Collins said Friday. "Even if it's next week, he's not going to open with us. He's going to have to get himself ready. And that's going to certainly determine on a daily basis where he's at. But we'll be gone. I'll have to monitor it by the phone."
Santana, who has been battling shoulder weakness since the early days of camp, has not thrown a bullpen session since early March. Despite throwing regularly off flat ground in Port St. Lucie, Fla., he has not stepped on a mound in over two weeks.
Not long after Santana first backed off his throwing program in February, he and general manager Sandy Alderson sparred publicly regarding the health of his shoulder. Santana then threw a surprise bullpen session in early March, which Collins classified as an attempt to prove that his shoulder was healthy. Several days later, Santana threw two pitches off a mound; he has not stepped atop one since.
"At that particular time, that was his way of making sure everybody knew his shoulder was fine and that he wasn't hurt," Collins said. "He wasn't ready to pitch, and now we've got to get ready to pitch. As I told him, I don't care about yesterday. I care about what you're going to do now. We've got to move forward here. What happened six weeks ago has absolutely no bearing on what we need to do going forward. Let's do it right."
Santana is now more than 30 months removed from surgery to repair a torn capsule in his left shoulder. He missed the entire 2011 season, but seemed back to normal last year before throwing 134 pitches in his June 1 no-hitter.
Struggling from that point forward, Santana began battling back, ankle and shoulder issues and finished the regular season on the disabled list. He did not throw off a mound at all this winter in an attempt to rest as much as possible. But when he reported to camp in February, Santana discovered his shoulder lacked the strength necessary to begin a normal spring progression.
"It's hard to say it was a setback," Collins said. "I just think he wanted to prove that his arm was OK, that his arm was healthy, instead of trying to make sure and not let all this other stuff bother him. He got angry about it. So we needed to go back to Step 1 again."
With Santana now unavailable to start the season, Jeremy Hefner will slide into the fifth spot of the rotation. Shaun Marcum is expected to pitch Game 2 for the Mets, with Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee following in that order.
Collins said he will keep in close touch with Santana to continue gauging his progress once camp breaks. Due to weather considerations, it makes far more sense for Santana to remain in Florida than to join his teammates at Citi Field.
Regardless of location, the Mets will have no accurate timetable for Santana's return until he begins throwing off a mound. At this point, the odds of Santana pitching anytime in the first half of April seem slim.