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Don't Worry, Be Hopeful

By Jason Levy
You don’t win anything in preseason, but you can lose everything. None of the stats any player puts up over the next month will count towards anything they do starting April 6. But an injury could throw an organization’s entire plans out of whack. That is what a great deal of New York Mets fans and executives are thinking as they worry about the condition of Johan Santana’s left elbow, which bears upon it the weight of the Mets’ 2009 season. But we all need to take a deep breath and remember about the six (hopefully seven) months ahead we have to worry about all the little problems the Mets and every other baseball team will face over the course of the season and not push that panic button just yet.
You never want to hear that your team’s best pitcher has a problem with any portion of his throwing arm, but Johan’s problem isn’t all that serious at this time. He has only complained about some tenderness in the joint, and the Mets are taking every necessary precaution to make sure he is all right before sending him out against opposing batters. The Mets brass and coaches are smart to play it safe, waiting until they are absolutely certain Santana is ready and able to take the mound.
But keep in mind that just because Santana could miss Opening Day in Cincinnati, he might not miss any time at all. Schedules for pitchers are usually set in the early days of spring training, keeping in mind when they will make their first start of the regular season when they go into their scheduled routines, from when they pitch in spring training, how long they go, when they throw bullpen sessions, down to every last exercise. Santana’s schedule may be out of line for April 6, but he can still get on course for a start during the first run through the rotation. So instead of first in line, he could be third of fourth. That may skew a few pitching match-ups in early April, but over the course of 162 games, with missed starts and days off, the rotation will be changed to line up Santana for big starts and plenty of them. There won’t be any Mets fans sitting around the last week of September commiserating “If only we started Johan on Opening Day, we’d be in first place right now.”
Mets fans should also be encouraged that Johan isn’t giving up that debut slot yet. On Wednesday morning Santana threw 46 pitches in the bullpen, going over his full repertoire, including the slider, and proclaiming he will be ready to go for the opener. He also said he felt good enough to skip the tests back up in New York (he also probably didn’t want to deal with the snow, and who could blame him?) after a bullpen session on Sunday. Santana is an experienced veteran who knows what his body can take and what he needs to do to be ready to go. Some guys can handle the pain and work around it to not show and slip in effectiveness. Johan earned the Mets fans trust with his 2008 finale on the last Saturday of the season. By now we know what to expect from Johan; a few blips early on but he’ll heat up with the dog days of summer and become un-hittable. It seems like Johan learned the culture of the Mets organization and fan base in just one year in Flushing, and knows just how important this season is for the Mets. The Mets new home will make 2009 a season-long event, surely to be filled with some classic tilts with the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies, who will keep up the chatter as they still seethe when any reporter mentions the Mets (Get over already Cole and Jimmy, you have a championship. Why do you care so much about what the Mets do? Are we that deep in your head?) that will most likely come right down to the wire again.
There may be fewer people in the Mets clubhouse who wants it more than Santana, who adjusted extremely well to New York in just one year. It took a lot of the great imports a season to adjust to the spotlight. In 2005, Carlos Beltran hit .266, slugged .414 with an on-base percentage of .330, 16 homers, 56 walks, 78 RBI, and 83 runs scored. In 2006, Beltran hit .275, slugged .594, with an on-base percentage of .388, 41 homers, 95 walks, 116 RBI, and 127 runs scored, a dramatic improvement. Alex Rodriguez struggled in 2004 in his New York Yankees debut, than won the MVP award in 2005. Mets fans should expect Johan, with a year in the National League under his belt, to improve upon his 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 206 K performance, which was good enough for third in the Cy Young voting in the National League. It’s going to be a long season Mets fans, and even longer if you start to have panic attacks over minor injuries in March. So just sit back, relax, and enjoy worrying about the Mets all summer.


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