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Notes: Santana wants to up pitch count

Notes: Santana wants to up pitch count

NEW YORK -- Following his last start, Twins ace Johan Santana revealed his frustration with how his season has been going so far.

After watching yet another strong start go wasted due to a lack of run support, Santana said that maybe it was time to make a change. That change, he felt, was to possibly go deeper into starts by raising his pitch count.

Despite having thrown 108 pitches against the Braves, Santana said he could have gone another inning. He even talked of throwing up to 150 pitches if he felt strong enough, and that's what it would take for the team to deliver more runs for him.

But with Santana set to make his next start against the Mets on Tuesday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire put a quick end to any thoughts that might happen.

"I'm set in my ways, and I'm not going to go out and let Johan throw 150 pitches, even if he wants to," Gardenhire said. "I'd like to see Johan pitching when we open that new stadium. As Tom Kelly told me when I got the job, my job is to make sure I protect those pitchers."

The reason for Santana's declaration is clear due to the lack of run support he's received this season. The left-hander has delivered quality starts (pitching at least six innings while giving up three earned runs or fewer) in nine of his 14 starts this season. Yet Santana currently finds himself with a 6-6 record and facing questions of why he hasn't quite found his form this season.

Gardenhire disputed the notion that Santana is pitching any different this season and acknowledged that he understands why his ace feels the way he does. The Twins skipper hadn't talked with Santana about the issue, but pitching coach Rick Anderson has.

"He was frustrated more than anything else," Gardenhire said. "Obviously, if you are any kind of competitor at all, you want to go back out there. Guys don't want to come out. We have a pretty good system that's worked pretty well here for all of our pitchers. Johan has a pretty good career going, and I'd like to keep it going."

Shift at third? Nick Punto's struggles at the plate so far this season have the Twins searching for answers on how to fix it.

The club has been working with Punto to raise his hands up a little higher and drive the ball down, rather than hitting it in the air. Gardenhire felt the team made progress in the changes on Monday afternoon.

"He's had to fight through mechanics, and it gets in your head," Gardenhire said. "The big thing for us is if he walks up there and hits three or four fly balls, that's no good for anybody."

Another option if Punto continues to struggle is to rely on Jeff Cirillo at third base more often. The reason why Cirillo hasn't seen more action at third has been due to health issues.

Cirillo missed three weeks in April after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. But the infielder was bothered by his right knee recently and received a cortisone shot in it a week ago to reduce the inflammation. Gardenhire has been cautious in his use of Cirillo due to the health issues. But with a healthy Cirillo, Gardenhire said he wouldn't hesitate to use him at third more often.

"Cirillo's an option, always," Gardenhire said. "If it looks like Nick is fighting it, sure, we can use [Cirillo]. He's an option. But he has to be healthy."

Memories of Shea: The structure of the Mets' new ballpark is beginning to take form right next to Shea Stadium. And one person paying particular attention to the new structure was Gardenhire.

Gardenhire played five seasons with the Mets in the early '80s and has fond memories of playing in this stadium. He admitted that it's not quite in the same form of his playing days, and the skipper even joked about how the location of the stadium, near LaGuardia Airport, may have affected his career.

"I think the airplanes made me make mistakes," Gardenhire said with a laugh. "I blame it on the planes for the errors that I made. I'm finally letting it out."

Man of many streaks: Luis Castillo recently saw his errorless streak at second base come to an end, but he entered Monday's game with another impressive streak on his resume.

Castillo has a 32-game hitting streak at Shea Stadium, a span that dates back to Sept. 2, 2001. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the longest hitting streak by any player in the history of Shea Stadium.

Twins tidbits: Torii Hunter arrived at the ballpark on Monday afternoon to take part in early batting practice. The plan was to test his bruised left hand and make sure he could go. Everything went well, and Hunter was back in center field for the game. ... Joe Mauer was behind the plate for Monday night's game, and he's expected to catch all three games of the series. But Gardenhire said he's taking it on a day-to-day basis. ... The news of the Orioles' dismissal of manager Sam Perlozzo brought a bit of sadness to Gardenhire's office. Gardenhire was roommates with Perlozzo in '81 with the Mets Triple-A affiliate, and Perlozzo was even his manager when Gardenhire was sent back down to Triple-A by the Mets in '86.

Down on the farm; The Class A Beloit Snappers clinched the Midwest League Western Division first-half title with a 44-26 record. The Midwest League All-Star Game is June 19 at Kane County.

Coming up: The Twins will take on the Mets in Game 2 of the series on Tuesday in a 6:10 p.m. CT start. Santana (6-6, 3.19 ERA) will try to get his record back above the .500 mark as he faces off against Mets right-hander Jorge Sosa (6-2, 3.42).

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

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