Baseball can be a cruel game sometimes, because all it takes is one misstep or one pitch to derail a career or a feel-good story.
Unfortunately for Johan Santana, who was looking to make a comeback with the Baltimore Orioles this season after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2013, he was reminded of just how cruel it can be again on Friday when he suffered a torn Achilles while making what was scheduled to be his final extended spring training start.
The story of how it happened makes it all the more disheartening for Santana.
According to Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports, Santana was hit in the back by a line drive, and in his pursuit to retrieve the baseball took one awkward step, which caused the Achilles tear. Something just that simple washes away all of the hard work he's put in to comeback this season and puts a dark cloud over his career. Though according to his agent, Peter Greenberg, it won't necessarily end Santana's comeback attempt.
Santana, 35, struggled to hit 80 mph during a preseason workout but still signed a minor league deal with the Orioles in March. He would have been due $3 million if he pitched in the majors this season. The O’s had recently purchased his contract and placed him on the 15-day disabled list, which signifies they were happy with his progress. Kutbatko adds that Santana would have reported to Double-A Bowie this weekend.
Santana hasn't pitched a full season in MLB since 2008. On June 4, 2012, he pitched the first no-hitter in New York Mets history in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, but was soon placed on the disabled list with shoulder problems. Many point to the 134 pitch count in the no-hitter as a likely explanation for his breakdown. Regardless, surgery forced him to miss the entire 2013 season and put him behind schedule coming into 2014.
When they signed him, the Orioles were hoping there was enough left in the tank to help them this season. Even if it was just for 10-15 starts, they would have taken it from the former two-time Cy Young winner. Now they'll be forced to look elsewhere for that potential midseason pitching boost that just about every team will need in one form or another.
Said executive vice president Dan Duquette:
"It's unfortunate. We were looking for Johan's leadership and also his pedigree from being a winning pitcher to come back and be added to the team. Now, we'll have to look for that capability somewhere else. I was looking at it like a midseason acquisition or trade and we invested in the rehab and we invested in the salary. Of course, we wouldn't have to trade a player. Unfortunately it didn't work.
"Sometimes, you can plan and do things right and things don't work out. Unfortunately it's an injury, the timing is not good. We'll have to look at other options in terms of pitching."
At 30-29, the Orioles sit 6 1/2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. That's well within striking distance with 103 games remaining, and chances are a healthy Santana would have played some role in Baltimore's direction from here on out. That makes it a tough pill for everybody to swallow, but gives us all the more reason to root for yet another Santana comeback story.
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