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Santana: 'I can’t wait to get back on the mound'

@adamdberry
February 15, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. -- This early in Spring Training, some pitchers might take their throwing programs, every-third-day bullpen sessions or pick-off drills for granted. Not Edgar Santana. Last spring, Santana couldn’t pitch off the mound. He’d run through pitchers’ fielding practice with his teammates, just to maintain a sense of normalcy,

BRADENTON, Fla. -- This early in Spring Training, some pitchers might take their throwing programs, every-third-day bullpen sessions or pick-off drills for granted. Not Edgar Santana.

Last spring, Santana couldn’t pitch off the mound. He’d run through pitchers’ fielding practice with his teammates, just to maintain a sense of normalcy, but he and fellow right-hander Chad Kuhl couldn’t yet throw a baseball. Such is life for a pitcher beginning the long recovery from Tommy John surgery.

So even the idea of a “normal” Spring Training couldn’t possibly sound more appealing to Santana.

“You can’t imagine,” Santana said earlier this week, smiling. “I can’t wait to get back on the mound.”

Yes, Santana has been throwing and preparing for the season like any other pitcher in Pirates camp. Director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said the 28-year-old reliever reported for Spring Training healthy, with no restrictions in place, after sitting out all of last season following Tommy John surgery.

“That was frustrating for me, yeah. I was at the apartment when they called me and said I was going to have Tommy John,” Santana said. “I was crying. I was so frustrated. That was a tough moment.”

Santana and Kuhl spent most of their rehabilitation time together at Pirate City, aside from a couple trips Santana made last summer to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, following the birth of his son, Erick. They finished the rehab program around the time last season ended, then Santana said he resumed throwing on Nov. 17.

Aside from some standard shoulder soreness at the start of his offseason throwing program, Santana hasn’t experienced any setbacks.

Santana said he tweaked his throwing mechanics a bit during the rehab process, making better use of his plant leg and finishing his delivery to take stress off his right arm. He learned new stretching techniques and came to appreciate the importance of routine arm care. And he believes he might be tougher for having gone through the grueling Tommy John rehab.

That could be good news for the Pirates bullpen. Santana seemed to be coming into his own just as he was injured near the end of the 2018 season. In 69 appearances that year, the right-hander worked his way into a late-inning role by recording a 3.26 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 54 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 66 1/3 innings.

“Right now, I have some power,” Santana said, smiling. “I feel strong.”

Around the horn

• It’s no secret the Pirates are making more prominent use of tracking technology like Rapsodo and high-speed Edgertronic cameras under the forward-thinking watch of new pitching coach Oscar Marin. But using that technology doesn’t matter much if the information isn’t made available and accessible to players.

To that end, Marin and the Pirates staff held a classroom-style meeting at the start of camp to introduce the data and technology to players. Marin, who is well-versed in modern technology and certified by OnBase University as proof of his biomechanical knowledge, is also breaking down the data with pitchers after their initial Spring Training bullpen sessions.

"The first time through the bullpens, we were collecting information, trying to get baselines off of who we were seeing and the baselines from last year of what [their] pitch characteristics were,” Marin said. “Afterward we gave them the liberty to come ask us, if they wanted to review it. But we also asked some of the guys to come in [when] we saw something that popped up that we think we can address at the moment."

• Manager Derek Shelton was impressed by what he saw and heard upon meeting shortstop prospect Oneil Cruz on Friday. The manager’s first impression when the 6-foot-6 Cruz walked into his office: “Wow. That is a large, large man.” Shelton was also encouraged to hear about Cruz’s lofty goal of reaching the Majors later this year.

“I love that. I think guys should think that. I think guys should come into camp with that thought all the time,” Shelton said. “Everybody should. If he said that, that’s sick. I’m glad he thinks that way.”

• One of the major rule changes officially announced on Wednesday is that all pitchers -- both starters and relievers -- must face at least three batters or finish the inning before exiting the game. Shelton acknowledged that it will have an impact not only on in-game management, but on the development of relievers as there is less room for specialists in the bullpen.

“It’s really going to affect it. Now, left-handers have to get right-handers out and right-handers have to get left-handers out, and you can’t functionally just say, ‘You’re going to face these two guys,’” Shelton said. “All managers are probably in a situation right now -- all organizations are -- looking at, ‘How are we going to attack this?’”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.