Twins open season north of the border

Twins open season north of the border

It's not often that after two seasons of pitching well enough to earn one Cy Young and strong consideration for another, a pitcher makes his first Opening Day start.

But that's exactly the situation in which Twins left-hander Johan Santana finds himself in this season as he prepares to start the opener for the very first time.

Santana's opportunity will end a seven-year streak in which Brad Radke has made the first start for the Twins, and it's not something that was lost on Santana. Even with his string of success over his three seasons as a starter, Santana has never felt like he was "the guy" in Minnesota.

"It's really an honor to be the guy to start the first game, but I've never really worried about it," Santana said. "I've always followed Radke, and that's all you could ask for. I would have no problems with him being the No. 1 pitcher, but fortunately for me, I have the opportunity to start. There's going to be a lot of excitement but I know how to control my emotions."

The emotions may be in check, but it won't be an easy first-day start for Santana. The Twins are in Toronto for their first series of 2006 to take on the potent Blue Jays. Additions such as closer B.J. Ryan, third baseman Troy Glaus and starting pitcher A.J. Burnett have made Toronto a more formidable opponent.

"They can pitch, catch the ball and swing the bat," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's a very good baseball team. They put a lot of money into it this winter and it will be a fun opening series for us against a good baseball team."

The Twins have made some changes themselves and are still waiting for the regular season to see just what kind of effect it will have on an offense that was often stagnant in 2005. Designated hitter Rondell White, third baseman Tony Batista and second baseman Luis Castillo are all expected to help improve Minnesota's ability to score runs.

The moves that the Jays made this offseason were significant but there's no doubt that one player is still the star of that show and it's the team's Opening Day starting pitcher -- Roy Halladay. The front-runner for the 2005 American League Cy Young before breaking his leg in a game near midseason, Halladay gives Toronto a true ace to lead the staff.

Santana and Halladay will give the Opening Day game two of the best pitchers in the American League. But even with such a strong pitching matchup, there is an added confidence for the Twins just knowing that Santana will be on the mound in the first game of the season.

"Whenever he's on the mound, all of our guys feel like we have a great shot of winning," Twins catcher Joe Mauer said. "He's one of the best in the game."

This spring there was a different kind of preparation for Santana as he was the No. 1 starter for his native country of Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. The experience allowed Santana to prepare a little earlier and get some extra work in on a few of his pitches. The result has been that Santana says he feels as good as he ever has, which may be good for the Twins and dangerous for their opponents.

"I'm ready to roll," Santana said.

Hitters, be warned.

Pitching matchup
MIN: LHP Johan Santana
• 16-7, 2.87 ERA in 2005
• 1-1, 6.57 ERA in 2005 vs. TOR
• 2-2, 3.82 ERA lifetime vs. TOR

TOR: LHP Roy Halladay
• 12-4, 2.41 ERA in 2005
• 1-0, 0.00 ERA in 2005 vs. MIN
• 4-0, 2.20 ERA lifetime vs. MIN

  Twins probable lineup
1.LFShannon Stewart
2.2BLuis Castillo
3.CJoe Mauer
4.DHRondell White
5.CFTorii Hunter
6.1BJustin Morneau
7.3BTony Batista
8.RFLew Ford
9.SSJuan Castro

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• MIN: FSN North

On radio
• MIN: WCCO Radio
• TOR: CKTB 610

It's the beginning of April in chilly Toronto so don't expect a wide-open roof.

On deck
• Wednesday: at Blue Jays, 6:07 p.m. CT
• Thursday: at Blue Jays, 6:07 p.m. CT
• Friday: at Indians, 2:05 p.m. CT

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