During the last couple of seasons of Omar Minaya’s tenure, the joke went that the Mets had turned into the Kremlin when discussing injuries. Every time a player was injured, it started off as day-to-day and then somehow turned into a season-ending injury, much like how Soviet leaders would start off with a cold and end up dead.
The Mets under Sandy Alderson promised to be more open about injuries when they happened and not put players under pressure to return early. They seem to have done a good job on the former. Unfortunately what we have seen in 2012 with the latter has not been so encouraging.
Now, it has not been as bad as making Jose Reyes play when he couldn’t swing from one side of the plate. But I think the Mets have rushed players back to the majors before they are ready to perform at the MLB level. Let’s look at some players and see how much rehab time they had before returning to the Mets:
Ronny Cedeno – 8 games, 34 PA
Ruben Tejada – 8 games, 30 PA
Andres Torres – 5 games, 22 PA
Jason Bay – 5 games, 22 PA
Josh Thole – 2 games, 5 PA
Frank Francisco – 5 games, 4.2 IP
Johan Santana – 1 game, 3.0 IP
Tejada and Francisco suffered setbacks in their rehab or else they likely would have been back sooner. If nothing else, it’s at least interesting that the players who had the longer rehabs have done better upon their return. Here’s how the above players have done since their recall:
Cedeno – .985 OPS in 53 PA
Tejada – .754 OPS in 195 PA
Torres – .707 OPS in 291 PA
Bay – .378 OPS in 76 PA
Thole – .593 OPS in 184 PA
Francisco – 2 IP, 9.00 ERA
Santana – 1.1 IP, 54.01 ERA
Now, it is quite likely that a longer rehab would not have helped Bay hit better, although it would have helped the Mets by not having his anemic bat in the lineup. But I have to think that a longer rehab would have helped Santana. What was the point of rushing him back when Jeremy Hefner was doing a credible job in his place?
What makes it even more disturbing is that they rushed him back so he could face the Braves, one of only two teams in the National League against whom he has a losing record. Coming into Saturday night, Santana was 3-8 against Atlanta. Last night’s loss dropped him to 0-3 against the Braves this season.
This marks at least the third time that the Mets have made a questionable decision in regards to Santana this season and each one has turned out to be the wrong one.
I certainly would have left Santana in to pitch the first no-hitter in franchise history but let’s not pretend that he has not been a different pitcher since then. The no-hitter was his 11th game of the season and after that performance he had a 2.38 ERA. In nine games since then, Santana is 3-6 with a 7.98 ERA. Terry Collins elected to delay his next start after the no-no and Santana was rocked. The Mets chose to rush Santana back after only one rehab start and he got lit up.
Santana was on the DL for 21 days. For all of his recent history of injury problems, it seems the most prudent course of action would have been to require more than 3 IP of rehab against a short-season club before throwing him back into the fire. When they rushed him back to face the one team that regularly beats him like a drum, the decision only becomes more perplexing.
Now the question is what to do with Santana the rest of the season. Does he take his turn five games from now, like nothing bad happened? And what does the club do if Santana gets lit up again? Collins is on record as saying that the Braves hit balls where no one was. Perhaps. But what if the Nationals do the same thing next Friday? Or the Rockies the following Wednesday?
In a season that has been flushed down the drain, is there any point to keep pushing an old, injury-prone pitcher?
It was great that a star pitcher like Santana was the one who broke the Mets’ no-hitter drought rather than a journeyman like Steve Trachsel or a career-reliever like Terry Leach. It’s just too bad that it didn’t happen when he was healthy in 2008.
Right now the no-hitter is looking like the Native Americans’ win over Custer in The Battle of the Little Bighorn. That was a great, historic victory but it also marked the beginning of the end of the “Indian Wars.” Santana still has a year to go on his contract but it seems increasingly likely that we’ve seen his last hurrah and a buyout of 2014 seems inevitable.
If this was a commercial, we would cut to a shot of a Mets fan with a single tear running down his cheek.