Blister to blame for Santana's struggles?

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Johan Santana tied a career-high by serving up four homers to the
Phillies last week and turned in the worst start of his career against
the Yankees yesterday, allowing nine runs while failing to make it out
of the fourth inning.

After watching Santana get clobbered for the second straight start, pitching coach Dan Warthen suggested that a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand may be to blame by changing the grip on his fastball:

He’s fought through it for almost a month, but now that it’s healed,
the ball plane has changed. It’s going to decrease the velocity if it’s
cutting like it is. The two-seamer is cutting at times also.
Physically, he’s in good shape. And the arm feels good. We just have to
find out what the delivery issue is right now.

Santana dealt with blisters and cracked finger nails at various times
in Minnesota, but insisted yesterday that the latest issue is not a big
deal. His velocity is indeed down, but only slightly, as his fastball
averaged 90.1 miles per hour during the past two starts compared to
90.9 mph for the season overall.

Of course, 90.9 mph is the worst fastball speed of his career and
his average velocity has dropped from 93.1 to 91.7 to 91.2 to 90.9
since his Cy Young-winning 2006 campaign. All eyes will be on Santana
when he takes the mound next against the Rays this weekend, but in the
meantime I’ll pass along a bit of encouraging history for Mets fans.

The last time that Santana allowed five or more runs in back-to-back
starts was in July of 2003, which was his first month as a full-time
member of the Twins’ rotation. He shook off those struggles to go 8-0
with a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts to finish the season. As the world’s biggest Santana fan I’m hoping that history repeats itself.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.