Now with Blue Jays, Johan Santana aims for another comeback
DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) When Johan Santana walked into the Blue Jays' clubhouse for the first time early Saturday morning, a surprise was waiting inside his locker.
Taped in the upper left hand corner, directly above his blue No. 57 jersey and cap, was a photograph of the celebration from Santana's no-hitter with the New York Mets in June 2012, arguably the finest moment in his baseball career.
''I know exactly who did that,'' Santana said with a smile.
That would be close friend and Toronto backup Josh Thole. He caught the left-hander's 134-pitch gem that night at Citi Field, still the only no-hitter in Mets' history.
For Santana, after two major surgeries on his throwing shoulder and a ruptured Achilles tendon he sustained with Baltimore during extended spring training last June, the picture served as an emotional reminder of his distinguished past.
Two weeks shy of his 36th birthday, it's a place the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner with Minnesota vows to return.
''It would be a great thing to do, to come back and have those kind of days,'' said Santana, who has not pitched in the majors since August 2012. ''I know it was something very special. . Hopefully, I'll be able to come back and wear this uniform on a major league mound and get that feeling again.''
Santana took his first step toward that goal on Thursday, signing a minor league deal with the Blue Jays with the hope of returning to the majors this season. But he knows the journey is just beginning.
''I'm always positive about everything that I do and the way I think,'' Santana said. ''I never gave up. Last year, I was close and everything was good. Unfortunately, something else happened that had nothing to do with my arm. Now, I have to bounce back.''
That may be easier said than done for Santana, once revered by hitters for his devastating changeup and mid-90s fastball.
Due to the severity of his injuries, Santana has been limited to just 21 games since 2010. His velocity has taken a hit as well, reportedly averaging between 86 and 89 mph in his lone appearance during winter ball in his native Venezuela earlier this year. He was then shut down because of shoulder stiffness.
The Blue Jays, however, are confident they will be able to work Santana into their rotation at some point. Though he won't be ready for opening day on April 6, Santana will start a throwing program soon and the team will monitor his progress.
If Santana returns to the majors, he will make the base salary of $2.5 million. He also has an April 28 opt-out clause.
''He's certainly a competitive guy and believes in himself,'' general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. ''We certainly believe there's a lot left. It's just a matter to get him right, get him strong and see how and when he can impact us.''
Santana wants to make the most of his chance.
''As long as my arm is still attached, I'm going to give it a chance,'' he said. ''I know there's going to be a lot of good and bad things out there, but the reality is that I have to do it myself. I'm still doing it. I love what I do. If I'm able to do it, that will be great. But if it doesn't happen, then at least I tried my best.''
NOTES: OF Michael Saunders returned to camp less than a day after having surgery to remove torn cartilage in his left knee. Saunders, who is expected to miss five or six weeks, walked on his own, without crutches or a protective brace, and said he has started mobility and strength exercises. ''This is a great day for me,'' Saunders said. ''I'm going to be ready to go as soon as possible. But that being said, as soon as my knee allows me to.'' . Heavy rain washed out a majority of the team's second full-squad workout. Manager John Gibbons doesn't expect it to be an issue since it's still early. ''We needed it, but there's playing time and we'll get plenty of work when we start playing these games (Tuesday),'' Gibbons said.