2008-09-05 / Sports

Cyclones' Santana Proving He Belongs on the Mound

By Patrick Hickey Jr.

Growing up in the Dominican Republic in the early 1990s, Cyclones closer Yury Santana was probably the only youngster who wasn't thinking about throwing no-hitters for the rest of his life.

A shortstop by trade, Santana instead envisioned himself starting the double play, making diving stops and stealing would be singles from unsuspecting hitters with his glove and rocket arm.

There was just one problem though.

He couldn't hit well enough to stay in the lineup everyday.

A lifetime .197 hitter through his first season in professional baseball, Santana knew that in order to make his big league dreams come true, he have to do something incredibly drastic. Known for his defensive skills and amazing arm, Santana and the Mets organization decided it was in his best interest to become a pitcher.

He hasn't looked back since. "In the beginning it was tough and all I could do was throw hard," he said. "[Former Met] Randy Niemann worked with me a lot and showed me how to throw strikes and taught me to not focus on throwing hard. I used to get in trouble a lot because that's all I could do. Now, I feel like a pitcher."

Things didn't originally start out the way the 26-year-old would have liked however, as he was lost for most of the 2006 and 2007 seasons after Tommy John surgery.

Originally signed as a free agent by the Mets in 2003, Santana knew that his 2008 season would have to be a special one or his career would most likely be over.

Making the NY-Penn League All Star team after leading the team with 13 saves and striking out 36 hitters in only 24.2 innings this season, Santana has not only cemented his spot in Brooklyn, but he's become a prospect worth watching.

Seeing his development throughout the season, Brooklyn pitching coach Hector Berrios has loved what he's seen from the fiery reliever and believes that despite his age, he has a bright future ahead of him.

"He's got three pitches he can throw for strikes, but it's more about the mental game with him," Berrios said. "He's not used to being in the pitcher's shoes yet. When he does well, he as high as a roller coaster ride, but when he does bad out there, he's really hard on himself. That's what we've worked on this season with him.

He's come a long way in a short period of time."

Under the tutelage of Berrios, Santana has thrived out of the Brooklyn bullpen and quickly become a leader in the clubhouse.

Giving Berrios credit for his swagger on the mound and the development of his slider, Santana doesn't want to think about where he'd be without his pitching coach's help this season.

I've worked with Hector a lot," said Santana. "With his help, I have become a much better pitcher. We've worked everyday on my slider and it's made a big difference on the mound.

With the confidence and experience of a veteran and the work ethic of a rookie with everything to prove, Santana isn't ready to let his feel-good story come to an end just yet.

"I love having the game in my hands," he said. "I love being a closer. I've worked really hard this year in Brooklyn and I think I'm ready to pitch in Double-A next season. I just have to keep throwing strikes. It's the same ball there, nothing different."

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