All The Way Back, Johan Santana Set For Opening-Day Start

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL: Pitcher Johan Santana #57 of the New York Mets poses for photos during MLB photo day in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Johan Santana hasn't pitched brilliantly this season. He's given up nine runs in 18 innings, and he's issued seven walks. But he's pitched well enough to earn the Opening Day nod after missing all of 2011 with a serious shoulder injury. So reports Adam Rubin (via ESPN.com):

After throwing an intensive bullpen session Saturday, New York Mets left-hander Johan Santana walked by manager Terry Collins and proclaimed: "You've got your pitcher for Thursday."

A day later, after Santana met with general manager Sandy Alderson, Collins and the rest of the rotation Sunday morning inside the manager's office, that proclamation was affirmed.

Santana, who last threw a pitch in a major league game on Sept. 2, 2010, will start opposite Atlanta Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson on Thursday at Citi Field in the teams' regular-season opener.

Bad shoulder injuries aren't like bad elbow injuries. These days, elbow injuries often seem like just another bump in a pitcher's developmental path; shoulder injuries can turn a great pitcher in a good one. Or into a retired one. So it's never been safe to assume that Santana would someday make another Opening Day start.

So if you're a baseball fan, this should be heartening. I'm still not convinced that Santana's all the way back, and in fact even before the injury he'd lost some of his luster. For a while now, it's looked like the Johan Santana who won two Cy Young Awards (and should have won three) simply doesn't exist any more.

But the post-Cy Santana was still pretty good. In his three (nearly) full seasons (2008-2010) with the Mets, Santana started 88 games and posted a 2.85 ERA with three times as many strikeouts as walks. Among the 24 pitchers with at least 500 innings in the National League in those seasons, Santana's ERA ranked third, his strikeout-to-walk ratio eighth.

No, he's not been the pitcher the Mets thought they were getting for their $137.5 million. Even in the seasons in which he's pitched. (The Mets paid Santana $22.5 million last season to rehab.) And they still owe him $55 million for the next two seasons (assuming they give him a $5.5 buyout instead of another $25 million in 2014).

But the money's essentially gone. Now they're just hoping he's healthy enough to pitch effectively for the next two seasons.

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