Speculation about Johan Santana's elbow has dominated discussion of the Mets for the last week, but Tuesday finally brought something close to a definitive answer about the team's plans for him. He'll work towards pitching batting practice on March 13th, pitching coach Dan Warthen said, and make his first start of the spring on March 18th. From there it is about building pitch count over three or so more starts, which makes April 6th and Opening Day too close for comfort.
It doesn't make the fifth game of the season out of the question, though. April 11th in Florida won't have the same pomp and circumstance of April 6th in Cincinnati, but neither will the other 33 starts he hopes to make this season. Making all his starts, on whatever date, is more important than making his first start on a specific date. It's also much more important than trying to assign blame for what went wrong with his elbow. Spilled milk needs to be cleaned up, you don't need to analyze the particular conditions that caused the bottle to tip over.
Santana's the most important individual player on the Mets. If he misses any significant amount of time, there's not much that Francisco Rodriguez or David Wright or anyone else can do to save the season. Any plan to compete is based on the foundation that Santana makes all of his starts, so taking anything but the most conservative route with his health is asinine.
Continuing to keep Opening Day front and center when Santana hasn't thrown one pitch to an opposing batter was a silly idea anyway. Until he's thrown such a pitch, and thrown it without feeling any pain in his elbow, there's not much reason to start plotting out starts. Once he crosses the first bridge, you start thinking about the second and so on and so on.