Santana eases worries ... for now

Howard Megdal has just about given up on the Mets, but that doesn't mean he can't still find his small pleasures. Case in point:

    But, on Saturday night, I took a different approach at the ballpark. Enough with the math-numbers that have been so unkind to the Mets during the past few seasons. Instead, it was time to appreciate the baseball game for itself, not for what it can mean in terms of October.
    Saturday's game, a 4-0 win over the Reds, was particularly useful in this pursuit. But no Mets fan can be unfamiliar with finding the non-pennant pleasures in the day-to-day life watching a baseball team.

    That is not to say it was easy. Watching Johan Santana walk the eighth-place hitter in the Cincinnati lineup, I quickly moved beyond the ramifications in Saturday's game against the Reds. Was this part of the same concentration lapses that led to Santana's walking the pitcher six times already this year? Would this mean Santana cannot provide the ace-level pitching that the Mets will need to overtake Philadelphia?

    No. Just this game. Santana pitched seven shutout innings, and as he walked off the field following the seventh, I took in a great game from a great pitcher.

In Santana's previous six starts -- June 2 vs. the Pirates through July 5 vs. the Phillies -- he pitched 43 innings, walked 16 batters and struck out 21. Statistical anomaly? Perhaps. But Santana's never been that sort of pitcher, which is good because that sort of pitcher doesn't usually win Cy Young Awards and pitch in All-Star Games. Those numbers suggest a pitcher who's lucky to be in the majors, or perhaps a good pitcher who's got something wrong with him.
I wonder if Santana hadn't made an adjustment, then thought better of it. In his last May start, he beat the Nationals 7-4 but lasted only six innings, during which he struck out 11 but also walked six and threw 120 pitches. By many reasonable measures, it was his worst start of the season. Is it completely coincidental that in his next start, Santana threw only 85 pitches (in six innings), and struck out only three Reds? After not striking out fewer than seven in any previous start?

And that game does not look like a fluke; in none of his next five starts did Santana strike out more than four batters. It sure looks like he was either "pitching to contact" or not healthy enough to get the usual number of swings and misses.

Saturday was just one day. Five strikeouts and one walk looks like a return to normalcy for The Great Santana*, but I think he's still worth watching. I mean, in a frightened way. Until he pitches a few more games like Saturday's.

* And yes, I believe I just made up that nickname, and if it catches on I would like to get full credit. Especially since "Grimace" didn't stick for this famous All-Star.

(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)