Santana ready to dive into 2007

Santana ready to dive into 2007 in opener

It's difficult to discuss improvement when you're talking about a pitcher who has won Cy Young Awards in two of the last three seasons -- both as unanimous selections.

But listening to Twins ace Johan Santana talk about his future, it's clear there is still much more that he feels he can accomplish.

And one of the first things might be getting off to a better start to this season. Slow starts to the season have plagued Santana in the past, as he holds a career 4.43 ERA in the month of April.

"I don't know what it really is," Santana said of his penchant for early-season struggles. "When you work on the delivery of the changeup and the fastball, it takes a little bit of time for your arm to catch up and make that changeup look like a fastball. It just takes time, and the only way for you to feel comfortable is to go out there and pitch. But this year I feel pretty good. I've been throwing all of my pitches in Spring Training and hopefully all this work will pay off on Opening Day."

As Santana prepares for just the second Opening Day start of his career, this time against the Orioles, the left-hander is focused more on his team than what he can do individually.

It was just last year that Santana got the nod over veteran Brad Radke for the Opening Day start. It was a symbolic passing for Santana, who was handed the torch as the unofficial leader of the Twins pitching staff when Radke retired at the end of last season.

Santana now anchors a staff that has its fair share of question marks. He is considered to be the lone stabilizing force in the group, but it's not something he thinks too much about right now.

opening day 2007

"I know what we have to do, and what I have to do, to help my team and take care of business," Santana said. "I don't think everything is just going to be on me. I think we help each other and everyone here understands what they have to do."

It will be a battle of two strong left-handers in the season opener as the Orioles will start southpaw Erik Bedard. The Canadian hurler's potential has been a big topic of discussion in baseball circles over the past few seasons, but now the Orioles feel he's emerged as a potential ace. And it's something that his opponents have noticed, as well.

"Bedard has really come on as one of the best lefties in the game," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's going to provide quite a test for our offense."

The Twins return almost the exact same lineup that helped them lead the American League in batting last year. They also return a stellar bullpen. But in the end, it seems that the Twins' success always comes down to its starting pitching. And at least one pitcher seems ready.

"I'm feeling pretty good and aggressive," Santana said. "You see everything coming out pretty good. Before, you sometimes are at the point where you're going to throw to get a feel of the changeup and then have to slow things down. But I'm not now. I'm feeling good. I'm ready for the regular season."

  Twins probable lineup
 Pos.Name
1.2BLuis Castillo
2.3BNick Punto
3.CJoe Mauer
4.RFMichael Cuddyer
5.1BJustin Morneau
6.CFTorii Hunter
7.LFRondell White
8.DHJeff Cirillo
9.SSJason Bartlett

Pitching matchup

MIN: LHP Johan Santana
• 19-6, 2.77 ERA in 2006
• Did not face BAL in 2006
• 2-1, 3.23 ERA lifetime vs. BAL

BAL: LHP Erik Bedard
• 15-11, 3.76 ERA in 2006
• 0-2, 4.66 ERA in 2006 vs. MIN
• 0-3, 2.63 ERA lifetime vs. MIN

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• ESPN

On radio
• 1500 KSTP

Up next
• Tuesday: Orioles at Twins, 7:10 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Orioles at Twins, 7:10 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Off-day

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