- Associated Press
Saturday, July 23, 2011

MIAMI (AP) - Johan Santana sat in a corner of the New York Mets clubhouse Saturday wearing an orange spring training T-shirt, the apparel an appropriate match for the status of his comeback from shoulder surgery.

For the Mets ace, this July is like February. He hopes to start pitching in games again next week, which would be a big step toward his goal of rejoining the New York rotation late this season.

Santana threw batting practice to hitters for the third time Friday at the team complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session Sunday at the Florida Marlins’ stadium before their game against the Mets, and if that workout goes well, he’ll likely begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment.

“Sunday is a big day for me,” he said. “I hope that if everything goes right, I’ll get an opportunity maybe to get in a minor-league game.”

The two-time Cy Young Award winner said he’s still building up his shoulder strength, and there’s no timetable for his return to the majors. But he and the organization would like to see him pitch for the Mets before the end of the season.

“I think it would be very, very important for him to try to get some outings this year, so that when he comes in next spring, the doubts are gone,” manager Terry Collins said. “He agreed. There’s no timeline, but if he comes back and pitches the last two weeks of September, and goes out and has a couple of games and feels good and comes out of them with a positive frame of mind, I think that’s a big step toward 2012.”

Santana had a brief setback in his comeback in June, when he postponed a bullpen session because of soreness in the shoulder. But he said he’s pleased with his progress overall.

“I’m getting closer and very happy with the way I feel,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The left-hander threw 42 pitches in three innings Friday against minor-leaguers, and said he enjoyed the increased intensity that comes with facing hitters.

“They were swinging and challenging me,” he said. “It’s not the same thing when you throw bp. You actually have to get the guy out and find the pitches to make sure you get him out. That’s what I was doing.”

Last season Santana went 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA in 29 starts before being sidelined. He’s 40-25 since joining the Mets in 2008.

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