Johan Santana was just placed on the disabled list for the second time this season. The first time was for an ankle injury, now for back inflammation. His 2012 season looks all but over, and what a roller coaster of a season it was for Johan.
Santana was making a comeback from major shoulder surgery that forced him to miss all of 2011. Johan worked hard and impressed Mets coaching staff enough to give him the nod to start the 2012 opening game at Citi Field. Met fans didn’t know what to expect from the former two time Cy Young winner. There were plenty of doubters who thought the Mets were rushing Johan back from major surgery to pitch for a team with little expectations. Some fans believed that using Santana was good, because the best pitcher would give us the best chance of winning.
Regardless of what fans thought, Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins made the final decision and Johan was on the mound for opening day on April 5th, 2012. Santana, who was on a strict pitch count, threw eighty-four pitches, went a strong five innings, giving up two hits, two walks, and zero runs, while striking out five as the Mets beat the Braves 1-0. The Mets went on to lose their next two decisions one against Washington and one against Atlanta, in which he lasted only one and a third innings, surrendering six runs on four hits. It was the shortest outing of Johan’s career.
On May 26th, Santana was back to his old form. He threw a complete game shutout at Citi Field against the San Diego Padres. Santana gave up only four hits and he struck out seven.
After his first complete game in two seasons, we were excited to see Johan back on the mound June 1st against the St. Louis Cardinals. Johan gave Met fans a night we would never forget. In the 8,020th game in franchise history, Johan Santana threw the first no hitter in New York Mets franchise history. Santana went nine innings, giving up five walks and striking out eight. He threw one hundred-thirty-four pitches. This night was memorable for more reasons than one. As the game went on and Johan’s pitch count continued to rise, all anyone could think about was the decision Terry Collins needed to make. Does Collins keep Johan in for the sake of history? Or does he try and limit the damage to his one-hundred-thirty-seven-million-dollar investment’s shoulder? Collins went with the sake of history. Johan completed the no hitter and all Met fans were given a night to celebrate.
After the game, all people could talk about was how many pitches Johan threw and if that would take a toll on a shoulder that was a little more than a year removed from major surgery.
Santana’s next start took place in Yankee stadium. Baseball fans around the world were excited to see what Johan would do after consecutive complete games, with one being a no hitter. Johan didn’t fair well to the rival Yankees. His final line was five innings, seven hits, four of them being home runs, six earned runs, one walk, and five strikeouts. On the bright side, it was June 8th, fifty-nine games into the season and Johan still had an ERA under three.
Santana’s next start came against Tampa Bay. His line was five innings, six hits, four runs, four walks, and six strikeouts. He threw ninety-six pitches and the Mets were able to salvage him the win 9-6, as they went on to sweep the Rays. He then threw six shut out innings against Baltimore. He lost to the Cubs, despite a solid effort of six innings and two runs. He then beat the Dodgers with eight innings of shutout baseball. His pitch count went over one hundred each of the last three games he pitched in June.
Beating the Dodgers was the last win Santana would find in 2012 and the last time he would exceed one hundred pitches. He went on too lose his next five starts. He faced the Cubs again on July 6th. He gave up thirteen hits, seven runs, in four and two thirds. He lost to Atlanta twice, the Dodgers and then the Nationals on August 17th, before landing on the disabled list on the 22nd.
Santana’s ERA rose to a 4.85. More than two runs higher than what his ERA was on the night he threw his no hitter. In his final five starts he gave up earned run totals of seven, six, six, eight, and six. He was completely out of gas and it was obvious.
Now looking back at the one hundred and thirty four-pitch effort he had on June 1st, did Collins make the wrong decision? Was the history he made the reason for his downward spiral? In my opinion, it wasn’t. I am not a pitching coach, nor am I in any position to have a credible opinion on the matter, but I find it hard to believe that Johan’s pitching performance spiraled as the season went on due to thirty extra pitches he threw on one night. Johan had some sharp outings after June 1st to prove it. Could it have affected the long-term durability? Possibly, but who are we as fans to play devils advocate with Collins’ decisions months after.
What looks to be Santana’s final numbers for 2012 are a 6-9 record with a 4.85 ERA in twenty-one starts. He was one inning shy of two hundred and gave up only one hundred-seventy-nine hits. His strikeout to walk ratio stands at 144/55. The Mets went 9-12 in his starts. All those numbers don’t make the eye jump off the page, but he showed signs of brilliance this season. He showed signs of the old Johan.