It’s Santana Day in the Citi tonight. With Johan on the mound, the Mets have their best chance of winning out of every five games.
But it bothers me that he’s pitching tonight, rather than two nights ago. Why? Because Jerry Manuel and Dan Warthen have decided that, despite all the off-days during the early part of the schedule, they’re giving all five starters their regular turns in the rotation. For the life of me, I can’t see how this was a good plan — particularly for two men who have to know their jobs are on the line. With your team’s catalyst (Jose Reyes) out for the first week and the anchor of its lineup (Carlos Beltran) out indefinitely, it’s more important this year than in others not to get off to a slow start. One way to prevent such a thing from happening, I would think, might be to use your best pitcher as often as possible, without overworking him.
I can understand that Johan is coming off of surgery that ended his season early last year and that the Mets wouldn’t want to have him worn out at the end of the season. But, um, you have to get to the end of the season in contention before that becomes an issue. So why not use Johan every fifth day instead of every fifth game and then work the rest of the rotation around that? Even if Manuel wanted to give John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez regular work in the early going, I can’t see how it would have been a problem to start Jon Niese off at Buffalo and bring him up when a fifth starter was finally needed.
This problem with Johan’s use struck me this week, when I realized that because of the way Manuel set up the rotation, Santana will not pitch against the Braves this weekend or the Phillies next weekend. Sure, all games are equal, all wins and losses count the same, but don’t you think there’s a mental boost — especially with this team — that could come from having your ace shut down the top two contenders in your own division?
For a visual comparison, below is the Mets’ schedule for April and May (click each one for a larger, clearer view) with the dates Santana pitched or will pitched based on starting every fifth game (in green) as he is now vs. when his starts would fall if he went every fifth day (in blue).