SANTANA'S ROLLER COASTER
"There were probably a number of reasons for it. What he had was treatable, but any time you're impacting your elbowing, it's obviously significant. He had enough to pitch. When Ervin was at 90, 91 with his slider sharp, that's enough to compete. But the results aren't the same as when he's sitting at 91 to 93, hitting 95."If he gets back to '08, he's going to have a good season." That was when Santana had the distinct look of an ace all summer. Pumping premium gas from April through September, Santana was 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA in 32 starts, pitching an inning for the American League in the final Midsummer Classic staged at the old Yankee Stadium. He had career highs in innings (219) and was second in the AL in strikeouts with 214 while walking only 47 men and holding hitters to a .237 batting average. Those are ace numbers, even if Santana doesn't pay all that much attention to those things. "When I had my 500th strikeout and they gave me the ball, I threw it away," he said. "I don't keep things like that." Santana's experience sometimes obscures the fact he's still a work in progress. He has four years and 104 days of Major League service time, having broken in at 22 in 2005, going 12-8 with a 4.65 ERA. He jumped to 16-8 with a 4.28 ERA in '06, reaching 204 innings with 141 strikeouts before laboring through a disappointing '07. He never found his rhythm or confidence while going 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA. Determined to recover his form, he put it all together in '08 and sees no reason why, nearing his physical peak at 27, he can't be even better this season. "Good arm speed," Butcher said during Santana's session on Thursday. Santana broke two bats, and Freddy Sandoval, Hainley Statia, Nate Sutton and Gary Patchett struggled to get the ball out of the infield. Catcher Mike Napoli nodded approvingly when asked about the level of Santana's stuff. "Very nice," Napoli said. Another highly productive even-numbered season wouldn't seem odd at all to Santana.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.