By Rich Coutinho
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You see Johan Santana bounce around the clubhouse and his body language tells you he is on the road to Opening Day. Then you see him pitch and you can understand why the Mets are so optimistic about a return to form for the ace southpaw. On this day in Port St Lucie, Santana pitched live batting practice to Mets hitters and the reviews are outstanding from all corners of the Mets clubhouse.

“He looked real good”, says Met second basemen Daniel Murphy who faced Santana, “breaking off  a couple of real good sliders. We all know it is still March 1 and his velocity is likely not near where it is going to be at, but make no mistake he looked real good and very determined.” For manager Terry Collins, a return to form for Santana would have a boomerang effect on his team.

“We all know how great he can be every fifth day”, says Collins, “but an added value is the impact he has on the rest of the rotation. Johan leads by example and I think the other four guys in the rotation will benefit from seeing the way he goes about doing his job.” But more than that, Santana commands the attention of the clubhouse and the Mets missed that last year.

What I saw today on the backfields here in Port St. Lucie was that Santana swagger that has been missing for the past 18 months. I saw it as he joked around with his teammates. I saw him interacting with fans. I saw him having fun. And, of course, I saw the competitive fire that was best illustrated when he told Kevin Youklis to take his bleeping base after hitting him with a pitch back in 2009. And that swagger has been missing from this team for a long time.

Remember this Mets fans — I know you feel beat up right now and naturally your expectations have been lowered. But Johan Santana does not have low expectations and wants nothing to do with any players who possess those tendencies. He intends on being on the mound on Opening Day and plans on making his next start five days later because that is what he was made to do.

Now don’t get me wrong — there is still much work to be done and Santana knows it. He also knows much lies on his surgically repaired left shoulder. And he embraces that challenge in every way. To me, that is best reason Mets fans should be optimistic — Johan Santana is hell-bent on carrying this pitching staff.

Can Santana ‘return to form?’ Leave a comment below.

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