SARASOTA, Fla. - Johan Santana threw off flat ground today, lifted weights and walked over to his new locker with an ice pack on his left shoulder. He was introduced to each reporter who stood in front of him, then was challenged to go backward and recite the names.
“It’s going to take time,” he said, smiling.
Santana won’t be rushed learning names or pitching in games.
The Orioles signed the two-time Cy Young Award winner to a minor league deal yesterday and hope to get him back into competitive action around June 1. He’s still recovering from a second surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule, which caused him to miss the entire 2013 season.
Santana is going to work out each day at the Ed Smith Stadium complex until able to join one of the affiliates.
Why the Orioles?
“One of the biggest things is they understand exactly where I am as far as my rehab and everything. And then they’ve got the confidence that they’ll be able to help me to come back. We’re on the same page and I’m very happy for that,” he said.
“Also, Chris Correnti, who is an assistant (athletic) trainer, I’ve worked with him in the past (with the Mets), so we’ve been together and working in some rehabs. Definitely, I feel good about it.”
Santana threw for seven teams, including the Orioles, last week in Fort Myers. Though his fastball reportedly topped out at 81 mph, he’s pleased with his progress and optimistic about the future.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “We still have some way to go, but I’ve been throwing off the mound and getting my strength back, and so far everything’s been good. We don’t know how long it’s going to take, but we’re on the right track.”
Is June 1 a realistic timetable?
“I hope so,” he said. “There’s nothing written down right now. I’ve got to go one day at a time and make sure every day is a good one and we’ll see when we’ll be ready. Right now, I’m throwing off the mound, but I’m not facing hitters or anything and the intensity is not there yet. But the good thing is I feel good, and once you start building up and getting into baseball, it definitely should catch up quicker.”
Santana isn’t sure how much of his normal velocity will return.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” he said. “Only time will tell how fast I will throw. But as long as I don’t feel anything in my arm, I’ll be able to go out there. I know what to do. And again, you’ve got to make adjustments. There’s no question about it. That’s what I’m going to do. But right now, I don’t really know what my velocity will be. This is just a process that we have to build up everything, and then we’ll see how it goes.”
Here’s more from Santana:
On potentially joining the Orioles down the stretch:
“That’s a good situation that might happen with me. It could be sooner, it could be later. This team is going to contend. And I am going to prepare to try to help as much as I can in any way. So whenever it is time for me to join the team, I’m going to help as much as I can and hopefully it will be sometime soon.”
On whether it was important for him to sign with a contender:
“No question. You never know what’s going to happen and injuries are part of the game. Definitely being in this situation is good for me. I don’t even know when I am going to pitch again, but I hope I will do it and do it for this ballclub. And it means a lot to me. Because I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t know when my career is going to end. So, you just got to take a chance and I think I’m in a good situation here.
On learning from last year’s situation, when he tried to come back and needed another surgery:
“You got to take one step at a time. You got to listen to your body. Something was wrong. We didn’t know what it was until we saw the doctor and the medical point (of view), and they said there was something else in there. It was a tough situation, but I did my best and they went in there and fixed it and now you start all over again. I’m just starting a new chapter of my career.”
On whether he feared that his career was over:
“I never thought about it, but it was there. But I was told by the doctor the surgery was successful, and it was going to be up to me to come back, and that’s all I needed to hear. He told me it’s not about being a tough surgery or whatever, it’s just about how you’re going to handle it and how much you put into it, and I really have worked hard to be up to this point. And I’m not done yet. I don’t want to go out in the game like that. I want to go out of the game on my own terms, knowing this is going to be my last game, knowing this is going to be my last year, and not just not knowing maybe that my last game was my last one. I don’t even know who I faced, and when it was, I might not want to remember.”
On whether he’s thought about being a mentor and setting an example to the young pitchers:
“I can help any way. We’re definitely here and I’m happy for the opportunity and they’re going to be my teammates, and their success is going to be my success and vice versa. This is a team thing, and you know, you’ve got some good guys, good arms, and you’ve just got to take it through the whole process and get experience. And I’ll be happy to share everything I know.”
On whether he has anyone he can talk to about the surgery, such as Bret Saberhagen:
“I haven’t talked to him. When we talked to Dan Duquette, he told us that he had that kind of experience with him. He’s pretty optimistic that I’ll be able to come back, and the work ethic that we have will definitely help a lot. We’re working it as a project, I guess. You could call it a project or whatever where we have to build it up and see how it goes. Nothing to lose, a lot to gain, so that’s the way we’re looking at it.”
On whether he’s apprehensive about facing live hitters:
“I went through it before, so I’m just happy and anxious to come back and compete. Once I’m there, I don’t think about too much. I just compete and go, so whatever happens, happens. To me, I love this game so much and I just have fun every time I am out there, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
On where he’s going to rehab after the team breaks camp:
“I’m going to be here until we start pitching and competing, but as of right now, we’re going to be here the whole time until we know we’re going to be able to compete.”
On whether he’s considered the possibility of pitching out of the bullpen:
“The main thing here is to make sure the shoulder is back to being healthy, and then after that we’ll see how it goes. Definitely, my intention is to be a starter. There is no question about it, but at the same time, we’ve got to make sure we’re capable to do that in the long term. So, I don’t really know as of right now. We’ll make adjustments as we go. But definitely the main focus here is getting the strength back, so that’s what I’m going to focus on.”