By Ed Coleman
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The clock will begin ticking for Johan Santana on Thursday night. The Mets’ ace left-hander will begin a rehab assignment by throwing 45 pitches for the Single-A St. Lucie Mets when they take on the Daytona Cubs in Florida.

There have been a couple of significant steps recently in Santana’s comeback. Last Friday in Port St. Lucie, he threw a three-inning simulated game and was able to judge how batters were reacting to his stuff and his pitches. Then on Sunday, he threw a bullpen session prior to the Mets-Marlins game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, and the results were encouraging.

Perhaps the biggest step came after a setback. Santana was shut down from throwing off a mound for a 10-day period after experiencing some soreness in his surgically-repaired shoulder. But he continued to long-toss during that time. And it really helped.

Does Santana need to pitch in the majors this season for his own peace of mind? Well, he remains optimistic — and realistic.

And while he labors away in Florida to make his return, has he kept tabs on his team — minus himself and many others due to injury — from a distance.

Mets coach Randy Niemann, who’s been with Santana every step of the way during his rehab time, is proud of the way his charge has worked and responded.

Santana has not held back during his sessions — and won’t on Thursday night either.

The tentative target date — always subject to change — remains August 21 for a major league start. Stay tuned.

C U soon
Eddie C.

Will Santana’s return have an impact on the Amazin’s, or will Mets fans have to wait for the “real” Johan in 2012? Let us know in the comments below…