The Johan Santana Comeback Hits Its First Bump

Shortest start of Santana's career leads to 9-3 loss

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    Reality bites.

    The start of the Mets' season has been one marked by smiles and nudges to a friend to make sure he's seeing what you're seeing.

    Wins have come more often than losses, the bats have flashed power that was missing last season and the bullpen is capable of doing more than spoiling a good thing.

    Best of all, Johan Santana has been on the mound and getting people out in a way that makes you think that he might just be able to pick up where he left off.

    Those smiles were always guarded, though, and Santana provided a bit of a reminder on Tuesday night why you haven't heard many fans getting too far ahead of themselves in reaction to this pleasant start of the season.

    He got just four outs before getting forced from the game, the shortest start of his major league career, and the Mets went down to a 9-3 loss in front of a Turner Field so empty that we're checking to make sure people are aware that Sherman burnt Atlanta during the Civil War and not last week.

    His command, so sharp in the first two starts of the season, was pretty much nonexistent as he couldn't generate any swings and misses to help him get out of at-bats unscathed. That was a bigger problem than location or Atlanta hitters really squaring up on his pitches and it is what helped Terry Collins pull the plug after 55 pitches over less than two innings.

    Santana's shoulder is thought to be strong enough to throw more than 100 pitches over the course of a start, but piling up so many pitches so quickly is more stressful to the shoulder than spreading them out over five innings. He was laboring, his stuff wasn't working and Collins was right to make the choice of living to fight another day.

    While Santana's stuff was such that he wasn't long for the game under any circumstances, he would have probably gotten a bit deeper into the game with a little help from his friends. Jason Bay made an error on the first play of the game, leading to the first run of the contest, and Ike Davis made a throwing error in the second inning that really greased the skids on Santana's exit.

    Oh, and the Mets still haven't scored a run this season while Santana is on the mound. Perhaps that's why Justice Elena Kagan felt a need to complain about their hitting in an opinion made public on Tuesday.

    A lot of the reason to hope for the best out of this Mets season is tied into the health of Santana, both the actual health of his shoulder and the health of his pitching ability. Tuesday night did nothing to damage the former, but it splashed cold water on the idea that the latter was going to be totally unaffected.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.