Johan Santana faces Mets hitters Thursday when he throws batting practice. It marks his first time against hitters since the fall instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla. The Mets are one day away from beginning intrasquad games and four days away from Monday's Grapefruit League opener, when Dillon Gee will take the mound at 6 p.m. against the Washington Nationals.
Thursday's news reports:
• Major League Baseball's drug-prevention program now includes blood being drawn to test for HGH. The Mets experienced the testing for the first time Wednesday morning, writes David Lennon in Newsday. "As long as they're not doing it on a game day, it doesn't bother me," Mike Pelfrey told Lennon. "It actually went really smooth in there. It was in-and-out, just like that. You sit down, they wrap your arm, stick you and it's over." Said center-field prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who is subject to the testing because he is on the 40-man roster: "For the first hour afterward I was having trouble trying to swing, so I think that affected it. I think that would definitely be a concern if they start trying to do the tests right before a game. After the game would be much better." Read more in the Daily News.
• Brian Costa in the Wall Street Journal and Ken Davidoff in Newsday spoke with the Washington Nationals' Chien-Ming Wang, who is recovered from surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder, the same procedure Santana had Sept. 14, 2010. Wang returned to the majors last season, at the two-year anniversary of his surgery, against the Mets as it turned out. Writes Davidoff:
Wang said that it took him "almost two years" to feel normal again; he had his surgery on July 30, 2009 and made his big-league return on July 29, 2011. "That's what I was told from the beginning: It would take up to two years," Santana said. "And that was the mindset. If I could come back sooner, great. If not, hey, it's two years. There is a time frame there, and I'm really working my way back, and working hard."
"He's a little different animal, probably, than Chien-Ming," [pitching coach Dan] Warthen said of Santana. "He knows himself. He has an easier arm working angle. Chien-Ming had a lot more torque. Personally, I think Johan has a better chance to come back sooner."
What makes Santana's recovery especially difficult to forecast -- and what sets him apart from Wang more than anything else -- is that his injury required open surgery. Most shoulder surgeries, including the one performed on Wang, can be done with a minimally invasive arthroscope. But doctors couldn't reach Santana's injury with a scope, so they had to make an incision in the area of the tear. As a result, he has also had to rehab the tissues and muscles that were cut in order to reach the tear. "It's an area of unknown," [Dr. Craig] Levitz, [the chief of orthopedic surgery at South Nassau Community Hospital], said. "There has not been a pitcher of his level that has had open surgery since 1970."
• 2011 first-round Brandon Nimmo, who is participating in the camp for top prospects, discussed his offseason and transition to professional baseball Wednesday. Nimmo said the speed of the game at the pro level, compared with his amateur days in Wyoming, was the biggest adjustment. Watch video of Nimmo's interview here. Read more in the Star-Ledger, Times, Post and Newsday.
• Unsigned Chris Young reportedly wants a major league deal, which is not happening with the Mets ... or, likely, anywhere. Young's had only nine and a half months to recover from the shoulder surgery also undergone by Wang and Santana.
• Gee did Pilates during the offseason at the recommendation of now-departed Chris Capuano to try to get into better shape for a long season. Jason Bay and Scott Hairston also do it. Writes Andy McCullough in the Star-Ledger:
Surrounded by women this winter in a Texas shopping center and fastened into a contraption called “The Reformer,” Mets starter Dillon Gee vacillated between attempting to “fire” his abdominal muscles and wondering what the heck he was doing. The answer: Pilates. "Being an athlete, you’re used to being in a gym, throwing around weights," Gee said. "Now you're in this studio with a bunch of girls, strapped into this weird machine. I mean, it's definitely pretty weird." ... “Pilates is awesome,” Gee said. “You think it’s for chicks, and it should be easy -- and it’s … hard.”
• Terry Collins agreed that D.J. Carrasco's existing $1.2 million contract for the 2012 season gives him a leg up for one of the two up-for-grabs bullpen spots. But Carrasco is not taking anything for granted after watching the Mets last spring training release Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, who were owed a combined $18 million.
• Here's a breakdown of who might emerge as the second left-handed reliever in the bullpen with Tim Byrdak should the Mets decide to carry the extra southpaw. That's no guarantee. Five spots are essentially filled -- by closer Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Acosta and Byrdak. Bobby Parnell has a minor league option remaining but probably merits being on the major league staff. So if Carrasco and Parnell make it and there are no injuries, no room exists for a second left-hander. There also are bullpen candidates with options such as Pedro Beato and Josh Stinson as well as Miguel Batista on a minor league deal in camp.
Parnell struggled in the closer's role late in the season after Jason Isringhausen achieved his 300th save. Parnell can be sent to the minors without passing through waivers. Then again, his 100 mph fastball would seem to have a place somewhere in the major league bullpen, even if it is not the late innings.
A team approached the Mets during the winter meetings trying to acquire Parnell, but after consideration team officials resolved not to give up that type of live arm. (You may recall the previous administration regretting trading similarly hard-throwing Matt Lindstrom to the Marlins, even though Jason Vargas, who was acquired for Lindstrom and was soon thereafter traded to the Mariners, turned out to be a pretty good pitcher.) "Work ethic is not the question with Bobby," Josh Thole told Mike Kerwick in the Record. "The one thing that I think would really [help] -- and he's made tremendous strides -- is the consistency of his breaking ball. Using his slider for a strike; knowing when to use it for a ball." Said Collins: "The two times I’ve seen him throw, his breaking ball is the best I’ve seen him have. The best. Great rotation, late break, flat, no hump to it at all. I want to see him get in a game and use it." Parnell also got married during the offseason. Read more in the Times.
• The Post's Mike Puma takes a look at the 6-foot-11 Rauch, who signed a one-year deal for $3.5 million and will serve as the primary set-up man to Francisco. "I think he can be an intimidating presence," Sandy Alderson told Puma. "We think, based on the [right-knee] surgery he had last fall, it will give him an opportunity to get back to the form he’s exhibited over the years and he provides us with a tremendous amount of depth, just as the other two [relievers] we acquired did."
• Center fielder Andres Torres' documentary "Gigante," which chronicles his battle with an attention-deficit disorder, will be out in a month, writes columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post. "With this film, I want to give hope to kids who have this ADHD condition," Torres told Kernan. "It's not easy and I want to share my story and inspire others. I want to make sure these kids always have hope that things will work out. It’s not impossible to do things. If you find the right medication plus therapy and some professional help, you can find success like I did. I struggled for many years."
• Daniel Murphy, who got engaged during the offseason, continues to work with infield coach Tim Teufel on pivots at second base while turning double plays. “The things we’ve been talking to Murph about are just to be consistent. Catch the ball. Just make the routine plays,” Collins said. "Teuf has really worked hard with him on just trying to get one of the pivots down and not trying to do two or three different ones. We want him to get one down and do it real good. We know Murph's hands are OK. It's just such a new position to him, and that’s why we’re going to try to get him as many reps this spring as we can." Read about Murphy's tutorials via Peter Botte in the Daily News. Murphy, by the way, started working out in Port St. Lucie this year without wearing any braces. However, according to Collins, doctors asked him to resume wearing the brace on his right knee, the one he injured in 2010. Murphy complied, and it should not be an issue since he wore it last season without it restricting his mobility.
• Thole has given up his Mets player rep role to Byrdak and is concentrating on improving his catching. "He had some legitimate distractions,” Collins told columnist Bill Madden in the Daily News about Thole's 2011 season. "His wife had a baby and he was the players' union rep for God's sake. Barely a year and half in the big leagues and he's got those duties in which he had to deal with 'hat gate' (the Sept. 11 hat issue). That wasn’t fair to him."
TRIVIA: Who ranked third on the Mets in steals last season, behind Jose Reyes' 39 and Angel Pagan's 32?
(Wednesday's answer: After Dave Racaniello was unable to fulfill the role because of back issues, Paul Lo Duca stepped in and pitched to David Wright in the 2006 Home Run Derby at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Wright finished second in the competition, and has not competed since.)