Johan scratched, to see doctor Tuesday
Ace may face surgery; Francoeur tears thumb ligament
NEW YORK -- Mets players said Monday they expect Johan Santana will require surgery on his left elbow to repair whatever malady has prompted the club to scratch the pitcher from his scheduled start against the Marlins in Miami on Tuesday. Instead of making his 26th start, Santana is to have his elbow examined by Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek. And, if his teammates' sense of the situation is right, his next start likely will be next season.
The Mets offered minimal information, i.e., no specific diagnosis or theories, about the problem that manager Jerry Manuel said began to develop before the All-Star break. But Mike Pelfrey, Santana's fellow starter, said, "I don't think anyone expects good news." And Jeff Francoeur said he anticipates Santana will require surgery after speaking with the pitcher in the clubhouse Monday.
Other players said Santana seems resigned to surgery.
At one point, Francoeur -- he, too, is injured now -- said Santana "can get it looked at now and be two months ahead by Spring Training," an indication of a possible need for surgery in the immediate future rather than after the season. Later he acknowledged his conversation with the pitcher and the likelihood of surgery.
No Mets officials confirmed that. None was available after Manuel made the announcement. Mets trainers and doctors are prohibited from speaking with the media. The club offered no written release about Santana, as it had about Francoeur, who tore a ligament in his left thumb Sunday. Nor did the club link the current problem to what Santana experienced early in Spring Training.
Manuel acknowledged being "terribly concerned," that Santana had experienced pain in the elbow in recent starts though "not at this level," the level he experienced in his most recent start, Thursday against the Braves. The manager also indicated Santana had not done normal between-starts throwing for an extended period.
And indication of the pain Santana has endured is that he opted not to make the start. Some 11 months ago, he pitched a three-hit shutout in a must game for the Mets on a left knee that required surgery immediately after the season. Teammates said Monday that the knee has been an issue at times this season, but that the elbow was a far more significant problem.
The news of Santana's infirmary followed, by less than an hour, the club's announcement that Francoeur, the right-handed right fielder, had suffered the torn ligament making a catch in the ninth inning Sunday. Francoeur said he will try to play through the pain but that he will undergo surgery at some point.
Francoeur and others acknowledged they suspected Santana had some sort of problem because the pitcher's velocity was down and that he was allowing more hits than usual.
"You weren't seeing the 93, 94 [mph] stuff anymore," Francoeur said.
And catcher Brian Schneider said the location of Santana's pitches was not as precise as it had been early in the season.
Santana, 30, is in the second year of a six-year, $137.5 million contract. He has a 13-9 record and 3.13 ERA in 25 starts and 166 2/3 innings. If he doesn't start again this season, he will fall short of 33 starts and 219 innings for the first time since 2003. That also was the most recent season in which he didn't win at least 15 games.
He had a 7-2 record and 1.77 ERA in his first 10 starts, averaging 6.6 innings per start and 11.73 strikeouts and 7.09 hits per nine innings. In his subsequent 15 starts, Santana has produced a 6-7 record and 4.02 ERA. He has averaged 6.7 innings per start and 5.36 strikeouts and 9.30 hits per nine innings. And he customarily is a more dominating pitcher in the second halves of seasons.
If Santana is unable to resume his season, he will be the fifth Mets starting pitcher forced from action by injury this season. The others have been assigned to the disabled list. Santana probably would be, too. But the roster limit increases from 25 to 40 Sept. 1, and the need to create room for a replacement might not develop.
John Maine has missed most of the season, Oliver Perez missed most of two months. Rookie Jon Niese, injured Aug. 5, will not return this season, nor is it likely Fernando Nieve, injured July 19, will return. Niese and Nieve were replacements for other pitchers.
The rotation is, of course, not alone in its physical problems. The Mets have played for extended periods without Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, three of their primary offensive players. Only Beltran is likely to return this season. David Wright is assigned to the disabled list and likely to return to duty Aug. 31, when he is eligible. And setup man J.J. Putz underwent elbow surgery in June. Moreover, Schneider and reserve outfielder Angel Pagan -- now a regular -- missed extended period because of injury. Reserve infielder Alex Cora, Reyes' understudy, played most of the season with damaged ligaments in both thumbs before undergoing surgery on one last week. Ryan Church, before he was traded, was assigned to the disabled list, too.
And now Francoeur may be forced to miss time or the Mets' final 37 games. He missed the game Monday. The tear in his ligament had been detected in the morning via MRI. He had hoped to play, but realized when he awoke the swelling and pain wouldn't allow it. He hopes to do as Cora did, wear a protective ring on his thumb when he bats and deal with the pain whenever he swings -- swings and misses hurt more than contact -- or catches a ball.
He wants to play the rest of the season, but won't remain active if he can not play effectively.
Francoeur has proudly avoided the disabled list in his career. He said Monday he never has missed a game because of injury -- until Monday. And he understood when colleagues and others suggested the spate of injuries to the Mets had reached out and grabbed him, too. Manuel, well before he announced Santana's problem, kidded about all the injuries.
"I think we're building up equity in that area," he said.
Francoeur picked up on that notion.
"Next year's going to be unbelievable," he said.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.