Mets' Santana dedicated to rehab plan

NEW YORK -- Johan Santana was standing in a hallway outside the New York Mets' clubhouse when manager Jerry Manuel called out to his ace, joking about the left-hander's next turn in the rotation.

"Tuesday," Manuel said, his voice booming. "Tuesday."

Wishful thinking.

Santana returned to Citi Field on Friday, three days after undergoing season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow. The two-time Cy Young Award winner said he feels better and is confident he'll be ready for spring training next year.

"I feel really good. The whole process went well," Santana said. "I told them that I'll be ready for Tuesday, but they don't want me to."

Santana had three small, circular bandages on his pitching elbow but appeared to be in good spirits. He said he's prepared to follow his rehabilitation program all offseason.

"Looking forward, we definitely have to make sure that my arm's fine," Santana said. "We'll do whatever it takes to make sure that we don't go through this again."

Santana pitched with bone chips in his elbow for a significant portion of the season. He said he was examined during the All-Star break by Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek, who told the pitcher the chips were nothing to be concerned about, but they would need to be removed at some point.

With Santana's elbow causing more and more discomfort, the Mets scratched him Aug. 24 from a scheduled start in Florida the following night. The next day, they shut him down for the rest of the season.

"This was the smartest thing to do," Santana said. "You don't want to finish a season like this. Even though we were struggling out there, you still want to finish the season playing and pitching. But at the same time, the team, the doctor, it was a medical decision for me to stop pitching."

Santana said he didn't notice the injury when he was pitching in games, but he thinks the bone chips affected his mechanics and velocity.

He said he had trouble finishing his pitches, which occasionally caused his fastball to ride back over the middle of the plate and his changeup to cut in rather than fade away.

Furthermore, the injury prevented Santana from throwing between starts. He said it took longer and longer to recover from one outing to the next.

Santana also had a problem with bone chips in 2003 when he was with Minnesota. He said he feels better this time following surgery.

The left-hander said he normally starts his offseason throwing program in January, but he'll probably begin a little earlier next winter to make sure his arm is OK.

Santana went 13-9 with a 3.13 ERA in 25 starts this year as a series of injuries wrecked New York's season. He is one of 12 Mets on the disabled list, including five former All-Stars.

"When we came up to this season, we had all the right pieces to make it happen. But unfortunately, we got hurt," Santana said. "I have the confidence that we've got the right guys to do it, but we have to stay healthy. It's going to be pretty interesting what's going to happen this offseason."