Santana comfortable in role as rotation leader

Just as the reigning Cy Young winner makes strikeouts look easy, he takes his anchoring place in stride.

The first ovation will come as soon as Twins lefthander Johan Santana heads down the left field line to stretch.

The second will come when Santana completes his stretching and begins jogging across the outfield.

The third one will come once he's done warming up in the bullpen.

The two-time Cy Young winner has made every fifth day an event, with all eyes on every move. It's a feeling, Santana said, that can't be beat.

"I enjoy it. And I'll never let them down," Santana said of his fans. "I'll try to do my best and hopefully they keep cheering the whole game."

Today, there will be another round of cheering in there somewhere when he's announced before the opener against the Orioles.

While Santana finds ways to keep the fans cheering, he must also lead a remodeled rotation that will need to be buttressed 34 times a year by his greatness.

It includes righthander Boof Bon- ser, who was sent to the minors twice last season before his game clicked and he landed on the playoff roster.

It includes righthander Ramon Ortiz, who is 20-27 his past two seasons.

It includes righthander Sidney Ponson, who once was a 17-game winner, but has had trouble with the law and his elbow in recent seasons.

And it includes righthander Carlos Silva, who is trying to put last season's 11-15 record behind him.

Santana, 28, is aware of the questions surrounding the starters and made it clear that he is not afraid to lead the rotation.

"It's always good to be an example to follow," he said. "I'm not going to do anything different, just do my job and go one game at a time. I can't pitch every single game, but when I'm out there I will show what it takes for me to help my team."

Bonser, who is on his first Opening Day roster in the majors, absorbs everything he can.

"Every game, I watch him," Bonser said, "I watch what he does, his bullpens. If there's anything I could learn, that I can catch from him, just to see if I can pick up something little from him. He's the master of the game."

Santana, 19-6 last season, has advised Ortiz on how to throw a better changeup. And Ponson's clubhouse stall during spring training was set up near Santana's for a reason.

"The guys who have come in, Sidney and Ortiz, are pretty comfortable," Santana said. "They feel like they are part of this group. That is what you are looking for."

And Santana is a strong supporter of Silva, who has worked hard to find his old form.

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