Santana tore his left Achilles tendon Friday during his final extended spring training start in Sarasota. It could end the career of the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Santana was hit on the left gluteus by a line drive, and his Achilles tore as he stumbled while chasing the ball. He was about to join an O’s minor league affiliate and probably soon after, get a shot in the Orioles rotation.
Now none of that will happen. The O’s low-risk move will provide no reward at the major league level.
But it was a different story in the O’s minors. Because while Santana was pitching at extended spring training, young O’s pitching prospects had the chance to meet and watch this accomplished pitcher who has had a strong career.
Matt Merullo, the manager of short-season Single-A Aberdeen, was also the manager for the Orioles’ extended spring training program in Florida. He saw first-hand how Santana impacted some of the kids down there.
In fact, when I asked him about it yesterday at Ripken Stadium, Merullo cited a specific example from a recent afternoon in sunny Florida.
“One day, he was pitching in a simulated game. There is a pitcher on the mound, a hitter, a catcher and a screen behind the catcher. No umpire, maybe a few fielders,” Merullo explained.
“You always have another pitcher, so one guy throws three outs and the other pitcher gets three outs. We had a young pitcher named (Yeraldo) Fermin, who has a good arm. He was wearing his black T-shirt and shorts, which we let the guys wear. Santana was in full uniform.
“When there was a base hit, Santana was not just pitching out of the stretch, but looking over there (toward first base) as if there were actually a runner. He was really pitching as if there was a game going on mentally.
“I went out to Fermin and said, ‘Do you know that is Johan Santana, who has won two Cy Young Awards? Do you see what he is doing? And you are kind of going through the motions a bit.’
“All of a sudden, Fermin went from 87, 88 (mph) to touching 92, 93 in the third inning of a sim game. That is what Santana did. He made people better.”
The day Santana got hurt, his catcher was Alex Murphy, the Orioles’ sixth-round pick last June out of Calvert Hall in Baltimore.
Murphy said initially no one was sure if Santana was hurt too badly, but he said the left-hander was helpful to him and he caught him in a few of those extended spring starts.
“He tried to help me develop as a player,” Murphy said. “It was definitely a privilege to catch him. If he could help us in any way, he would. It wasn’t telling us what to do, just giving us pointers.
“He really helped with me calling a game. He helped me to look at hitters and see where their weaknesses are and the best way to get them out.”
Santana is close to fellow Venezuelan Wilson Alvarez, who will be the pitching coach again this year for the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League team that starts June 20. Alvarez was also at extended spring and Merullo asked Alvarez to set it up to have Santana address all the O’s young pitchers in one big meeting there. He did that early on during extended spring workouts.
“He had a skull session with the young pitchers,” Merullo said. “He told them he never was a prospect until he was a Rule 5 draft pick. He never was written up as a young prospect.
“He talked to the players about how you can go from obscurity to literally stardom in this game if you are focused on the right things. That is what he brought down there.”