Notes: Santana leaves ready

Notes: Santana makes mark before exit

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Warning to any of the hitters preparing to play in the World Baseball Classic -- Johan Santana is ready.

Sure it was after only one outing where he didn't have perfect command of his pitches, but following his first start this spring Thursday night, Santana said he feels stronger than he can remember.

"At this point of the season compared to a couple of seasons ago, I feel much better," Santana said after pitching two scoreless innings in the 6-2 Twins victory. "Knowing that we had the [Classic] coming up, I was working out a little more this offseason, so I feel pretty good."

In his only outing with the Twins before heading off to Venezuela's camp, Santana threw 35 pitches. He held the Red Sox scoreless, but gave up two walks while striking out three and allowing only one hit. The command of his pitches wasn't as strong as he would have liked, but that's not unusual.

Spring Training is generally the time when pitchers work to find that certain pitch or have to develop velocity. For Santana it has always been his comfort level with the changeup. Just like fellow teammate Joe Nathan, who has his own concerns about the velocity of his pitches, Santana usually likes a little time to adjust to throwing his trademark pitch. Though he hasn't had as much practice as he would normally like, Santana said there were some positives he saw in his first outing.

"The good thing about it is that they were down," Santana said. "Even though they hit the ground or [were] kind of wild pitches a little, you want to see the changeup down and the slider, too."

Seeing the increased number of changeups and sliders thrown by Santana wasn't a surprise to manager Ron Gardenhire, who expected that with Santana having to prepare for the event. But the concern comes with whether the early progression will be a good thing or a bad thing later on in the season -- or even during the competition.

"All we are hoping is he doesn't hurt himself, because it's not the normal progression for him," Gardenhire said.

As for concerns he will do something to his arm with the added pressure, Santana feels confident that won't happen.

"I know what I'm doing," Santana said. "I know where I am. You might have to put a little extra [on a pitch] because you'll be in game situation where you have to win. But most players will be in the same situation. All of them don't want to overdo things and hurt themselves."

Thursday was the last time the Twins will see Santana for what he hopes will be until near the end of March as he leaves on Friday for camp in Clearwater, Fla. The finals for the World Baseball Classic are being staged in San Diego on March 18-20.

"There are a lot of expectations in our team and that's good to have," Santana said of his country. "Hopefully if all goes right for our team, we do the best we can to win."

Guess who's back: It didn't take long for Torii Hunter to show there wouldn't be any rust from his long layoff.

On the first pitch, in his first at-bat since the season-ending injury last July, Hunter launched a towering home run over the left-field wall.

Welcome back Torii.

"That was pretty fun to see," Gardenhire said of Hunter's homer. "He even said afterward that he surprised himself."

The welcome wagon was out for Hunter in full force long before the spectacular shot. The outfielder garnered two loud ovations: first, when he took to the field, and then when he stepped to the plate.

It had been nearly seven months since Hunter had seen action in an actual game. On Thursday, he played the outfield for three innings and had two at-bats, going 1-for-2.

Before the game, Hunter insisted it wasn't results that he was concerned with but rather finally getting to see game action again.

"I want to hit the ball and I want to get at-bats," Hunter said. "The results really don't matter to me."

Hunter said that in terms of his running ability, he was only going to go about 75 percent in his first game. The test in the outfield wasn't as much as Hunter may have wanted with no balls hit to center field, but it's just the kind of outing that helped him test the ankle a bit. Even before the game, Hunter acknowledged he would likely feel the effects of his first game action Friday.

"When you're running a lot in the outfield or on the base paths in games, you're going to be sore," Hunter said. "When I do more than I usually then it's sore but every time it gets sore, it's getting stronger."

More additions: The Twins clubhouse was a little quieter after the game with five players having left Spring Training for their respective countries' camps in the World Baseball Classic.

But the good news for the team is that it shouldn't be getting any quieter.

Luis Castillo confirmed he will not be leaving to play for the Dominican Republic. Castillo was told he would be backing up Alfonso Soriano at second base, and that played a big role in his decision.

The team will also be keeping Luis Rodriguez around, as he turned down the opportunity to play for Venezuela. Rodriguez learned he would have more of a platoon role, and figured it would be more beneficial to stay in Twins camp and fight for a roster spot.

"Being on the bench for these games won't help them get ready for season," Gardenhire said. "We are thin at the infield spots, so we are very happy to have these guys stay here."

Twins tidbits: One person in the crowd at Thursday night's game receiving quite a bit of attention was former Twins third base coach Al Newman. Newman, now a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks, generated plenty of greetings from some of the Twins players including Joe Mauer, Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto during batting practice. ... The Twins' starting lineup for Friday's game will be left fielder Shannon Stewart, second baseman Luis Castillo, center fielder Hunter, designated hitter Rondell White, third baseman Glenn Williams, right fielder Michael Cuddyer, first baseman Terry Tiffee, catcher Mike Redmond and shortstop Nick Punto.

Coming up: The Twins host the Reds at Hammond Stadium on Friday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Scheduled to start for the Twins is Brad Radke, who will be making his first outing of Spring Training.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.