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Santana cautious about supplements after suspension

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ervin Santana doesn't know Jenrry Mejia very well, but he can sympathize with his countryman from the Dominican Republic. Mejia, the New York Mets' former closer, recently became the first major leaguer to receive a lifetime b...

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Ervin Santana doesn’t know Jenrry Mejia very well, but he can sympathize with his countryman from the Dominican Republic.

Mejia, the New York Mets’ former closer, recently became the first major leaguer to receive a lifetime ban under increased penalties for performance-enhancing drugs. Mejia should have the ability to apply for reinstatement in two years, but at 26 he must consider the very real possibility that his career is over.

“Everybody wants him to get (another) chance,” Santana, the Twins right-hander, said Monday on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. “He’s a great guy, but it’s tough. It’s tough because he was the first to do that - suspended for life - and it’s going to be tough for everybody to try to give him a chance.”

Eight days before Mejia received an 80-game suspension last April, Santana was hit with the same penalty after testing positive for the same substance: stanozolol.

While Santana, 33, worked his way back to the Twins rotation by early July and eventually made 17 starts, Mejia never resurfaced. He tested positive again in late July, getting hit with a 162-game ban, and on Feb. 12 Mejia received his third PED strike.

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Santana hasn’t talked with Mejia since his lifetime ban was handed down, but he offered a public message to the baseball pariah.

“(Mistakes) do happen, but you’ve got to be smarter than that, too,” Santana said. “Don’t make the same mistake you made (before). You just try to create some positivity in your mind and just try to get out of it.”

Mejia’s misdeeds cost him a chance to pitch in a season that saw the Mets reach the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Considering the strain it put on the rotation in the first half, Santana’s suspension may have kept the Twins from reaching the postseason for first time since 2010.

A second positive PED test would slap Santana with a 162-game ban of his own, so he has redoubled efforts to steer clear of unfamiliar supplements and inadvertent mix-ups. He checks with a Twins trainer before adding anything new to his regimen.

“You have to ask, because everything now is different,” Santana said. “There are so many rules. For anything you want to take, you have to ask first.”

While Mejia’s 2015 misdeeds cost him $2.6 million in salary, Santana forfeited $6.64 million from the four-year, $55 million contract he signed with the Twins in December 2014. He came back more determined than ever to make amends, which led to some blips as he settled into a new situation.

Once Santana got his mechanics in order in late August, he reeled off a 1.62 earned-run average with a 5-1 record over his final seven starts. Even during his struggles, he was struck by how forgiving his new fan base could be.

“I was very happy with the way the fans treated me; I appreciated that,” he said. “I thought they were going to boo me a lot, but it was the opposite. It made me happy and gave me more confidence, and you see the results.”

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Even an August trip to Yankee Stadium left Santana pleasantly surprised at the way the public treated him.

“They didn’t do anything,” he said. “It was good. There’s people up there who like Ervin Santana.”

Twins manager Paul Molitor and pitching coach Neil Allen are foremost among them.

“I’m sure it was a challenging year for him to have to miss the time that he did, given the circumstances, but I think he showed us his value,” Molitor said. “He finished really strong for us.”

Among all Dominican pitchers to reach the majors, Santana now ranks fifth in starts and ERA (4.16) for those with at least 300 starts. He needs 10 wins to move past the late Joaquin Andujar as well as Pedro Astacio and Ramon Martinez for the No. 4 spot all time, and with a normal year he should move into fifth place for innings and fourth in strikeouts.

In other words, suspension aside, Santana’s place in his country’s esteemed baseball history continues to grow.

Should Mejia be allowed back into the game, Santana believes he would make the most of the opportunity, even after incurring three failed PED tests in roughly 10 months.

“He’s going to be more mature now,” Santana said. “He’s going to think more.”

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Having your livelihood taken away will do that to a person.

Santana knows that all too well.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TWINS
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