Johan Santana’s velocity sagged early and he allowed the first four St. Louis Cardinals batters to reach base Monday -- three via walks. But Santana picked up the oomph on his fastball and his performance shortly thereafter, retiring nine consecutive batters and getting through his fifth Grapefruit League start.
Santana ultimately was charged with two runs on four hits while walking three, hitting a batter and striking out five in five innings. He threw 88 pitches (55 strikes).
"I was struggling locating my fastballs," Santana said. "I threw two-seamers. And, then, by the time I threw my breaking ball, I wasn't able to throw strikes. But then I made some adjustments and I started hitting the inside corner and I was better after that. ... It was just one of those days where things take a little longer. That's all it was."
His velocity sat at only 86 mph in the first inning, which appeared concerning because that was 2-3 mph slower than he was sitting in his previous outing, when he took a scoreless effort against the Cardinals into the sixth inning. The same scout said Santana has restored his velocity to 88-89 mph in the third inning. He settled back to 87 mph for his final frame.
"I felt all right. I don't think it was my best day overall," Santana said regarding how his shoulder felt. "But it feels all right. To me, everything has been building up from 35 pitches -- whatever it was -- all the way to 80, or whatever it was today. Again, it's a process I have to go through until I establish everything at a high count. You're going to have good and bad days. It's just the way it is."
Even lacking an eye-popping fastball, Santana still managed to fool Cardinals batters into waving at his changeup. Santana got both Tony Cruz and Carlos Beltran to wave at third-strike changeups.
"It seemed like his command was all over the place," David Wright said about Santana's early performance. "You don't see him walking guys and hitting guys. It just seemed like his command was a little off. And then he found it and had a couple of really good innings. And then he got into trouble in the fourth inning."
Santana expects to have a short start Saturday -- far less pitches -- and then take the ball Opening Day against the Atlanta Braves on April 5.
"I'm assuming that next time out is not going to be that many pitches," Santana said.
As for the overall state of his shoulder, Santana said: "It is fine. But, again, to do it in the course of the season -- for 30 starts, or whatever it is -- that's something we have to see. Right now, I feel fine. But we have increased every outing with pitches and innings. Once the season starts, it's going to be about going as deep as you can in the game and recover from that for the next outing. I mean, it's a process. But so far everything has been good."
Santana figures to be capped at fewer than 100 pitches in April starts ... at least the early ones. At least six of his first seven starts -- and potentially all seven, if the Mets use a spot starter once -- will be on an extra day of rest because of team off-days early in the season.