Given the importance of Johan Santana to the Mets’ plans this season (and many seasons in the future), it’s no surprise that his struggles of late have everyone terrified and grasping for answers. A 6.50 ERA over six starts is a cause for concern for Livan Hernandez; for Johan Santana, it’s a catastrophe. The Mets cannot compete without him, and the worst start of his career last Sunday against the Yankees just compounded everyone’s nightmares.
So what’s wrong? There's no shortage of theories.
It’s the blister! About a month and a half ago, Johan had a nasty split fingernail, which led to a nasty blister, on the middle finger of his throwing hand. He said it made him “alter his fastball grip.” He says it’s completely healed now, but maybe the grip on his fastball was somehow compromised? It could explain the slight dip in velocity. Johan doesn’t think so, though.
It’s his knee! Last October, Santana had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee. The five months until spring training should have been long enough to heal — it even had the added bonus of forcing Santana out of the World Baseball Classic, a perceived pitcher-killer over the years. But Santana’s former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson told 1050 ESPN Radio he heard a “rumor” that Santana’s knee was balky. Peterson, who famously encouraged the Mets to trade Scott Kazmir for Tampa Bay’s Victor Zambrano because Peterson though he could “fix” Zambrano (he did not fix Zambrano), was fired a year ago and only worked with Santana for two months. And Santana calls the rumor bollocks: “I'm the one who feels my body better than anybody. My knee doesn't hurt, and I don't know where he get [sic] that one from.” It seems likely that Johan would know a little bit more about his knee than his pitching coach from a year ago.
It’s some other injury that hasn’t been diagnosed yet! With all the trouble the Mets have had with injuries and their diagnoses so far this season, this one is frighteningly believable. (Though Johan doesn’t think it’s this, either.)
Everything’s fine! It’s just been six games! Johan has had an exemplary career, and this six-game stretch, even if it is one of the worst six-game stretches of his career, shouldn’t panic everyone nearly as much as it has. He says he’s just “missing location” right now, and that a bullpen session today should help solve the problem. If Johan is right, we’ll have forgotten about this stretch in two weeks. And the Mets will still have a chance.
Johan’s next start is Saturday, at Citi Field, against the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays. If there were a time for him to calm everyone down with a signature four-hit shutout, this would be it. If Johan’s so convinced that everything’s fine, it would be nice of him to prove it.