UPDATE: 3:00 PM – Santana told reporters he’s still confident he’ll be able to pitch on opening day. Later, Mike Puma of the Post reported that the Mets still plan to have Santana make four spring training starts in preparation for opening day.
ORIGINAL POST – This morning in Port St. Lucie, Sandy Alderson told the assembled media that Johan Santana‘s first start of the spring will be pushed back. Santana was initially scheduled to start in a week, but that idea has been tabled. Instead, the Mets are now targeting a date between March 10th and March 15th for Santana to make his spring debut. Sandy Alderson wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Santana may not be ready for opening day.
While discussing the schedule change, Alderson pointed out that the delay isn’t injury related; it’s simply due to the fact that Santana has to build up some more strength. Andy Martino noted on Twitter that Santana is long tossing today, so that seems to corroborate Alderson’s statement.
Here’s some of what Alderson had to say:
Again, there’s no structural issue. It’s a matter of just getting into a development progression. 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 from last year and his loss of the second half of the season. So he’s just a little behind schedule.
On whether Santana was in danger of missing his opening day start, Alderson offered the following:
Right now, we don’t think so, but it’s obviously a possibility. Right now we’re still shooting for the opening day.
Naturally, today’s news will lead many to fear the worst with Santana – and that’s not an outrageous thing to do. At this point, though, this appears to be a minor setback. Still, it’s important to remember the severity of the injury Santana returned from last year, as well as the way his season ended.
In the event Santana isn’t ready to start the season (but is on track to return shortly after), I’d expect either Jenrry Mejia, Jeremy Hefner, or Collin McHugh to fill the void in the rotation. All three are on the 40 man roster, and each of them started games for the Mets last season.
There will be those who call for Zack Wheeler to fill out the rotation if Johan isn’t ready for opening day. Before taking the possible length of Santana’s delay into account, one must also understand that Wheeler simply may not be deemed ready for the majors when camp breaks. Even if he is, it makes no sense to replace Santana with Wheeler if it’s expected that Santana’s absence will be brief.
If for some reason Santana is expected to miss a significant amount of time, and Wheeler proves himself ready, I can see him being the choice. However, I don’t view that as likely. In the event Santana doesn’t break camp with the team, expect Mejia, McHugh or Hefner to be the replacement.