NEW YORK — Johan Santana is taking a break, whether he wants to or not.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday with a sprained right ankle, the latest setback for the fading New York Mets since the All-Star break.
Santana has struggled mightily since Reed Johnson of the Chicago Cubs stepped on his foot July 6 on a play at first base. The left-hander was hit hard for the third straight start Friday night in a 7-6 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and manager Terry Collins said afterward the team was looking for a way to get some “energy” back in his arm.
Santana missed last season following major shoulder surgery. He is 6-7 with a 3.98 ERA in 19 starts covering 110 2-3 innings.
“We knew in spring training that there might be a time this summer when he has to get shut down,” Collins said. “Well, now is going to be that time.”
General manager Sandy Alderson said Santana probably won’t pitch again until at least Aug. 7, when the Mets return home from an 11-game road trip out West.
“Definitely, it’s tough. I didn’t want to go on the DL. I want to keep pitching and competing,” Santana said. “They decided it’s better for me to take some time off and that’s what we’re going to do.”
New York is also missing starter Dillon Gee, who had surgery last week on an artery in his pitching shoulder after a blood clot had formed there. Gee will be sidelined for at least a couple of months and there’s a good chance he’ll miss the rest of the season.
Miguel Batista (1-3), a 41-year-old journeyman who has pitched mostly in relief this season, started in Gee’s place Saturday. He lasted only three innings in an 8-5 loss to ex-Met Chris Capuano (10-5) and the Dodgers.
Right-hander Jeremy Hefner was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo to help an overworked bullpen. The Mets will bring up reliever Elvin Ramirez on Sunday.
Santana became the third member of New York’s opening-day rotation to go on the disabled list. Mike Pelfrey had season-ending elbow surgery in May.
“Johan I think has exhibited the effects of 100 innings and a sore ankle the last couple of starts,” Alderson said. “We think that the ankle injury may have led to some general fatigue in his shoulder, specifically. And in light of the surgery and where he’s been and what he’s accomplished, we’ve gotten to the point where he probably needs to get that ankle right and get back to the point where he feels confident about pitching.”
Alderson said the Mets haven’t decided how to fill out their depleted rotation going forward. Santana’s next turn would have been Wednesday against Washington ace Stephen Strasburg.
“We’ll make a decision on the rotation in the next couple of days,” Alderson said. “We’re now filling two spots instead of one.”
Hefner, a starter at Buffalo, has made three starts for New York this season. Another option is prized prospect Matt Harvey, though the Mets have been cautious about rushing him up from Buffalo.
They may need a boost if they want to stay in contention. New York (47-47) has lost eight of nine to fall back to .500 for the first time since it was 13-13 after play on May 4.
“We’re not done,” Santana said. “We’re just going to continue playing and hoping to put some wins together again.”
With the non-waiver trade deadline looming July 31, the Mets must quickly determine whether it would be wise to make a move.
“The presumption here is that we’re buyers, and it has been,” Alderson said. “Realistically, the next seven, eight or 10 games become important for us.”
The 33-year-old Santana is 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his last three outings. He has given up 19 runs, 28 hits and six homers over 12 2-3 innings, the worst stretch of his stellar career. He was pulled for a pinch-hitter after throwing 72 pitches in three innings Friday night.
“We sat for quite a while this morning in discussions with Johan and the training staff and we’ve pretty much determined that the ankle issue is bigger than anybody has realized,” Collins said. “Ever since he had the ankle injury he’s lost — basically his command has not been there, due to the fact that we don’t think he can land properly. He’s using all arm to pitch, causing some fatigue in his shoulder. No pain, there’s just nothing there.”
Santana insisted his shoulder is OK.
“It’s just that when you start compensating and doing other things you get different results, especially with command of your pitches,” he said. “I feel fine, it’s just that you’ve got to (have) time to recover.”
So the stint on the DL is designed to give Santana rest, heal his ankle and rebuild his arm strength. Alderson said no tests are planned.
“As I told Johan, I don’t think anyone should be surprised by this,” the GM said. “Certainly no one as competitive as Johan wants to go on the disabled list. I think he recognized that was probably the best resolution in this case.”
Santana is 3-5 with a 6.54 ERA in eight outings since throwing a career-high 134 pitches June 1 against St. Louis to finish off the first no-hitter in Mets history. Some still wonder whether that one-night workload led to his recent slump, but Alderson doesn’t think so.
“I think really at this point it has more to do with the ankle,” he said.