Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 8/21/12

A long season has saddled Johan Santana with back pain, ankle discomfort and other maladies that he considers normal wear-and-tear for a starting pitcher. But examine them in the context of Santana's road back from left shoulder surgery, not to mention his importance to the team, and it becomes obvious why the New York Mets are considering shutting him down for the season.

Even so, that plan will not come into effect just yet. The Mets said prior to Monday's 3-1 loss to the Rockies that Santana should make his next start as scheduled on Thursday, with the team revisiting the idea of shutting him down at a later date. But that depends on the results of an MRI on Santana's lower back, which he will receive Tuesday.

"At some point, there's a diminishing return," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "It's been a long year, a long offseason of rehab. Johan actually has accomplished quite a bit over the course of this season and, at the appropriate time, we really have to think as much about next year as we do about this year."

The catch is that even if healthy, Santana will be on a strict pitch count for Thursday's start, prohibiting him from throwing 100 pitches as the Mets try to squeeze another few starts out of their former ace. Once rosters expand on Sept. 1, it will be much easier for them to replace Santana in the rotation, so Alderson indicated that Santana will make "another start or two, minimum."

But Santana has been experiencing back pain recently, which could prevent him from pitching, at all.

"It's going to be start to start," manager Terry Collins said. "We're going to take a look and certainly analyze where we are, what we're doing, what we're getting out of it, what he's getting out of it and make a continued decision as we go."

Santana opened the season on fire, going 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA over his first 11 starts and throwing a 134-pitch no-hitter June 1 against the Cardinals. But since that game, he has gone 3-7 with an 8.27 ERA, spending time on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle and going 0-and-5 with a 15.63 ERA upon his return. This is his first season back from anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder, which he underwent in Sept. 2010.

The two-time Cy Young award winner has one guaranteed year and at least $31 million remaining on his contract, giving the Mets incentive to keep him as healthy as possible heading into 2013.

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