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Mets minor leaguers study Johan Santana

Mets pitchers watch Santana
Mets minor league pitchers gather around the backstop to watch big league ace Johan Santana pitch in a simulated minor league game.

By Chuck King

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – New York fans will flock to Shea Stadium in the coming months to watch newly-acquired ace Johan Santana baffle National League hitters.

On the final Tuesday of spring training, however, it was the Mets’ minor leaguers who had the opportunity to gawk.

While Santana pitched a simulated game against Mets’ minor leaguers on a back field of New York’s spring training, nearly every Met minor league pitcher not involved in a game gathered around the backstop.

“I’m watching the mechanics, seeing how much pressure he puts on his back leg, watching his balance and how he finishes through the plate,” said Savannah Sand Gnat-bound pitcher Nathan Vineyard, who is participating in his first spring training. “Right now I’m just observing. He’s really mechanically sound.”

Santana threw 81 pitches in six innings in what is expected to be his final start before opening day.

The Mets travel to Atlanta for their second series of the season. Santana reportedly pitched on the back field so as not to give the Braves, that day’s opponent on the main field, a preview.

“It’s a real honor for guys like us to face guys like him,” said New Orleans-bound outfielder Jesus Feliciano after smacking two hits against Santana.

Feliciano’s hits were a rarity. Santana’s command neared mid-season form, including a devastating change-up that consistently elicited “oohs and ahhs” from the Mets farmhands.

“It just shows me where I have to be,” said pitcher Brad Burns.

The Mets Double and Triple-A clubs hosted their Florida counterparts on Tuesday. The Marlins arrived at the complex about 90 minutes before the first pitches of their games, in time to see Santana’s last couple of innings.

As soon as the Marlins’ minor leaguers learned Santana was throwing they, too, gathered around the backstop hoping to pick up tips.

“When you see a guy like Santana - a superstar of the game - you really want to take notice,” Carolina-bound pitcher Jacob Marceaux said. “It’s always a plus to see someone of his status pitching. You always have to be a student of the game.”

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