Twins show no fear of rotation without Santana

After losing 'brother' to suspension, club trusts Pelfrey with starting role

Twins show no fear of rotation without Santana

DETROIT -- After signing the richest free-agent contract in club history this past offseason, right-hander Ervin Santana was set to make his Twins debut in the second game of the season, against the Tigers on Wednesday. He also would have been up to start the home opener at Target Field on Monday.

Instead, Santana tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, and he will miss the first 80 games of the season. Santana, who signed a four-year deal worth $55 million, won't be eligible to return until July 4, and he'll lose roughly $6.6 million in salary.

The suspension caused a ripple effect on Friday, as right-hander Mike Pelfrey inherited Santana's spot in the rotation, while left-handed reliever Aaron Thompson was called up from Triple-A Rochester. Ricky Nolasco also moved up a spot and will now start on Wednesday, as well as in the home opener against the Royals. The suspension could also open the door for prospects such as Alex Meyer or Trevor May to see action in the first half of the season.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan was clearly disappointed by the news, which he received via a phone call on Friday morning while on a practice field, but he said the organization is ready to move on.

"We're going to deal with it, and there's nothing I can say about it other than we made some roster moves in the last couple of days that I didn't anticipate," Ryan said. "But you have the face the accountability of the organization and the player, and that's what we're doing."

Pelfrey, 31, is the biggest beneficiary of the suspension, as his first start is scheduled to come on Saturday against the White Sox. Pelfrey had a 1.32 ERA in Grapefruit League play and got his pitch count up to 85 in a Minor League game on Sunday, but he did give up four homers in that outing.

Pelfrey, though, is finally healthy after undergoing two right elbow surgeries in the last three years, and he's excited to prove that he's not the pitcher who has struggled during his time in Minnesota.

"It's not the way you draw it up, but I'm excited about starting," Pelfrey said. "I'm just hoping to take this opportunity and run with it. The biggest thing for me is that this is the best I've felt in a couple of years."

Santana's suspension could also take a toll on the bullpen, as the right-hander has averaged 199 innings over the last seven years. It's also hard to predict how Santana will perform once he rejoins the rotation in the second half of the season.

Santana claimed in a statement that he unknowingly took the substance, and he didn't offer any details to his teammates on Friday beyond an apology. So while Twins players are frustrated that they'll be without their No. 2 starter for an extended period, they're ready to move on and forgive Santana.

"Obviously, we would like Ervin to start the year with us -- he's a heck of a pitcher -- but whatever happened, we support him," second baseman Brian Dozier said. "He's our brother. Once he puts that uniform on, he's a brother and a family member, so we support him. But at the same time, we move on. We feel like we have the personnel."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.