OD starter Santana looks part in stellar start

Righty tosses 6 scoreless innings with 8 strikeouts in first outing since announcement

OD starter Santana looks part in stellar start

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. --  In his first outing since being named the Twins' Opening Day starter, Ervin Santana looked the part in Minnesota's 6-1 win over the Rays on Friday, as he tossed six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts.

Santana, who gets the nod against the Orioles in Baltimore on April 4, scattered three hits while lowering his spring ERA to 1.13 in 16 Grapefruit League innings. He has one more tuneup slated for Wednesday against the Blue Jays.

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | More info

"It was a nice day for him progressing toward his date in Baltimore," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "You look for location and command and offspeed. He had those guys off-balance most of the day. His slider must've been pretty good because he got some funny swings against some good hitters."

Santana, an 11-year veteran, will be making his first Opening Day start, and said he's excited for the opportunity. Molitor said he chose Santana because he's the veteran on the staff and he pitched so well down the stretch last year, posting a 1.62 ERA over his final seven starts.

"It's an honor," Santana said. "I'm very happy for that. I'm just going to try to take it as a normal game and try not to do too much."

Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki, who went 3-for-3 with two homers and a double Friday, said he was surprised when he heard Santana had never started on Opening Day. But he liked what he saw from him vs. the Rays, as Santana has also showed improved velocity this spring.

"It was typical Erv," Suzuki said. "He was throwing harder than I'm used to from the get-go. He was hitting 94-95 [mph] from the beginning. You can kind of tell he's getting into season form."

Worth noting

• Suzuki wasn't the only one to hit two homers, as third baseman Trevor Plouffe also clubbed two long blasts to left off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Molitor said bullpen coach Eddie Guardado was bragging after the game because he threw batting practice to both of them earlier in the day.

"He's taking all the credit," Molitor said. "His group had four homers."

• Plouffe now has a team-leading four homers this spring, and Molitor said he's planning to use him as the club's cleanup hitter to open the season. The manager said he's looking at a lineup that will have leadoff hitter Brian Dozier followed by Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano and Plouffe.

"With our lineups the next few days, we're trying to get close to decisions and put down names like we would in real games," Molitor said. "Right now, I'm kind of liking Sano and him 3-4."

• Suzuki's first homer came after he fouled a pitch off the back of his left foot against Smyly in the fifth. He took some time to gather himself but remained in the game and smacked the next pitch over the left-field fence.

"Maybe that's what I need. Don't hit it off your leg and swing like that again," Suzuki said with a smile. "But I've been working on stuff, and it's nice to see it paying off in games."

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