FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As someone who competed against Ervin Santana for several years as the two were in the American League West, Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki was convinced Santana had previously pitched on Opening Day.
Suzuki, who played with the A's from 2007-2012 while Santana was with the Angels, went 3-for-33 against him at the plate, while Santana racked up honors such as being an All-Star in 2007 and pitching in the postseason in four different seasons. But Santana, an 11-year veteran, will be pitching on Opening Day for the first time in his career on Monday against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
"I couldn't believe he hadn't had an Opening Day start as a guy as good as Erv is," Suzuki said. "But I guess that says a lot about the teams he's been on. But we're excited about it and we're excited about having him for a full year."
As Suzuki alluded, the Twins only had Santana for half the season last year, as he was suspended for the first 80 games for the use of a performance-enhancing drug. After the long layoff, Santana was inconsistent early, but turned it on down the stretch, going 5-1 with a 1.62 ERA over his last seven outings while going at least seven innings in all of those starts to finish the year with a 4.00 ERA.
With that impressive flurry to end the season and his 1.77 ERA in five Grapefruit League outings, Twins manager Paul Molitor made the decision to have Santana on the mound to open the season for Minnesota.
"He impacted us in a positive way after the break and we brought him in here two winters ago as a reliable guy who can win games and give you innings and compete every start, so we don't think that's going to change," Molitor said. "But it's nice to know we have him from Day 1."
Making only 17 starts last year, Santana saw a slight increase in his velocity and it's continued this spring, as his fastball hit as high as 97 mph and was consistently in the mid-90s. But Santana relies on much more than his fastball, as his slider has always been his put-away pitch and he possesses an above-average changeup he uses to neutralize lefties.
"He can do a lot of things," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "As lean as he is, he's going to give us durability and innings. He's got pitches. Lefties don't bother him much and [he has] a slider that negates righties. He has a nice feel for the changeup and handles the running games. So hopefully we can run him out there for 35 starts."
But it all starts with his outing against Baltimore, and Santana said he'll treat it like any of his other 313 career 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."
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.