FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The front-end of the rotation became clear on Wednesday, as Twins manager Paul Molitor announced Ervin Santana will start on Opening Day, followed by Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes. Molitor also said there's still a competition for the rotation's final two spots.
Santana, an 11-year veteran, gets the nod in the regular-season opener against the Orioles in Baltimore on April 4, while Gibson is lined up to start in the home opener against the White Sox on April 11. It's the first such honor for both pitchers. But Molitor said he'll likely wait until the end of Spring Training to announce whether Tyler Duffey, Tommy Milone or Ricky Nolasco will follow that trio in the rotation.
The rotation competition became more complicated on Wednesday, as Nolasco tossed six scoreless innings in the Twins' 5-2 loss to the Rays, while Duffey struggled in a start against Triple-A Norfolk. Duffey, whose spot in the rotation was written in pencil entering the spring according to Molitor, gave up six runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings. Milone, who is out of Minor League options and has a 2.00 ERA in three spring outings, makes an important start against the Marlins on Thursday in Jupiter.
"Given that the situation isn't overly clear, I'm probably going to let that run out," Molitor said. "We've let Santana, Gibson and Hughes know they're pitching Baltimore, and we have to figure out what we're going to do the first couple days in Kansas City."
Duffey, who posted a 3.10 ERA in 10 starts down the stretch as a rookie last year, has a 6.48 ERA in three Grapefruit League starts. Molitor watched the first few innings of Duffey's Minor League outing, and the manager said he had trouble with his fastball command and wasn't able to put away hitters. Duffey also gave up two homers, and his spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy.
"I'm watching and trying to evaluate, and there are people he's competing with that have a lot more experience," Molitor said. "Despite what he did last year, I didn't think it was automatically a given he'd be in there. So we're giving him every opportunity and he's trying to prove he's warranted for one of those last two spots."
Nolasco fared much better, though he was also facing a Triple-A caliber lineup since the Rays didn't send any regulars after their game in Cuba on Tuesday. Nolasco, though, was sharp, scattering three hits and striking out seven.
"His fastball early wasn't great as far as setting up hitters to spin it, but he had a little extra when he needed it," Molitor said. "He kind of breezed through the six innings. He pitched through one jam, which I thought he did a good job of. He had a good day."
Nolasco lowered his ERA to 4.05 in four Grapefruit League starts in the process, and he said he's trying not to think about the competition. He's made it clear he wants to start, but there still remains a chance that either he or Milone go to the bullpen to open the year.
"It's not my decision," Nolasco said. "It's up to those guys. I'm not going to interrupt their thoughts. They know how I feel. So we'll see what happens."
As for the decision to start Santana on Opening Day, it didn't come as a surprise, as he's been lined up for it since the start of Spring Training. Molitor said he talked with pitching coach Neil Allen early in camp and decided starting Santana in the first game of the season made the most sense.
"I don't think it was a big mystery," Molitor said. "It was kind of conversations with Neil early in Spring Training because you have to set it up some way. You can always adjust. But we thought that order made sense from the beginning if everyone was healthy. Phil was coming off a subpar year after a better one the year before. But we thought it'd be a competition for the last two spots. And I don't think it's been decided."