Heading into the season, No. 11 Miami knew it would have to rely on a young team of 11 true freshmen.
What head coach Jim Morris didn’t know was that with less than a month left in the regular season, senior right-hander Jason Santana would prove to be the biggest surprise.
“I don’t think there’s a day that passes by that they don’t give me a hard time about being here and being so old,” said the 23-year-old, who first came to Miami in 2005. “It’s alright, it’s all fun.”
Santana, a graduate of Coral Gables Senior High, is a testament to how injuries can escalate and alter a pitcher’s career.
“He was a guy who always competed no matter what the situation, no matter the team he faced,” said Laz Gutierrez, Santana’s high school coach who is now a scout for the Boston Red Sox. “I do follow him a lot just because he played for me three years at Gables. He definitely has a special place in my heart forever. I’ve seen him grow up. His success just goes to show you what kind of career this kid could’ve had had he stayed healthy.”
The criminology major sat out his freshman season after having Tommy John surgery. Two years ago he had bursitis and labrum surgery and midway through last season he had rotator cuff, labrum and bicep tear surgery.
“I kept telling myself that everything would be alright and I didn’t think I could just quit that easily,” Santana said. “I wasn’t going to let anything like that stop me because I knew that I could pitch at this level. I knew I’d come back.”
Pitching coach J.D. Arteaga and Morris stuck by Santana because of that promise.
“I’m happy for him more than anything,” Morris said. “The bottom line is he’s going deep in the season now for the first time, knock on wood.”
Despite eight Canes being drafted in the 2008 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, Santana watched as the team, which included his high school teammate and the fifth overall pick, Yonder Alonso, failed to win the College World Series.
“It would’ve been great to contribute to the team and maybe the outcome could’ve been a little bit different,” he said.
Entering Wednesday’s game, the 6’2” 200-pounder is tied for second in the ACC with six wins. He has pitched 40.2 innings and holds a 3.10 ERA in ten appearances for the sixth-lowest earned-run average in the ACC. Coming into this season, he was 8-1 with a 3.28 ERA.
“The last time I felt this healthy was in high school, not even, because I was hurt,” Santana said. “It feels great not having to worry about going out there and getting hurt and just being able to pitch.”
Last week, he beat Florida Atlantic for the third time in 21 days and allowed just one run on five hits in a career-high seven innings.
“He does that every midweek game,” said Preseason All-American closer Kyle Bellamy, who picked up his ACC-leading 10th save in the 3-1 victory. “He’s been battling injuries for five years now and he’s a real good friend of mine and I’m just happy that he’s doing so well.”
Junior catcher Jason Hagerty attributes Santana’s success to his throwing strikes, mixing his changeup and slider and getting ahead of hitters.
And every time he takes the mound, Santana’s family comes in large numbers to cheer him on.
“I know my parents, they’re really happy to see me out there, especially after all I’ve gone through,” he said. “I know it affects them a lot more than people think.”
As the Hurricanes get closer to postseason play, Santana hopes to be one of the key factors in the team’s success.
“The biggest thing is just being able to be out there every day and pitch and help the team win,” he said. “As long as every time I go out there I give the team a chance to win, I’m happy.”