ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The long wait is nearly over for Ervin Santana.
With his 80-game suspension by Major League Baseball coming to an end, Santana completed his rehabilitation assignment with the Rochester Red Wings on Tuesday night with a stellar eight-inning performance.
The veteran righthander pitched eight shutout innings, allowing five singles and no walks, as the Red Wings defeated the offensively challenged Pawtucket Red Sox 1-0 at Frontier Field.
“Everything was good,” Santana said. “Location was great, off-speed, fastball, it was good.”
Those elements of his game actually were good in all three of his starts in Class AAA. He pitched a total of 20 ⅔ innings and surrendered 17 hits and just four runs. He struck out 11 and walked four. Five of the strikeouts came Tuesday against Pawtucket, which has gone scoreless in 23 innings over the past two days against Rochester pitching.
“This was a nice tuneup for Ervin,” Wings manager Mike Quade said. “It should have him set up to go. His arm strength is good.
“The test comes at the next level, obviously.”
He’s expected to make his first start in a Minnesota uniform Sunday in Kansas City against the Royals. However, per MLB rules, he can’t rejoin the Twins until Saturday, so he’ll kill a couple more days in Rochester.
The richest free-agent signee in Twins history (four years, $55 million), Santana was suspended on April 3 after testing positive for the steroid Stanozolol. He has spent the past three months away from the MLB club and was finally allowed to join the Red Wings for a 16-day preparation assignment on June 20.
The unpaid time off was surely boring, and he’s eager to show the Twins what he can do.
“I can’t wait to help the team and I’m ready for it,” he said after Tuesday’s start.
He said the time with the Red Wings was very beneficial.
“Being off the game for a long time and then come back and perform like this, it means a lot to me,” Santana said.
He said it was reassuring that he was able to hit spots with all of his pitches Tuesday.
“I keep the ball down and then elevate when I want to,” he said. “My stuff is still the same so nothing changed.”
Not many balls were hit hard, either. Three of the singles were on softly hit ground balls. Luis Martinez had two of the singles and the second was a line shot back up the middle with two outs in the eighth, putting runners on first and second.
Santana, however, ended the threat by retiring Sean Coyle on a fly to center fielder Danny Ortiz. That ended his night after 99 pitches, 70 of which were strikes. Michael Tonkin pitched a perfect ninth for his seventh save in 10 opportunities.
Santana’s high strike ratio was impressive, even to him. “Zero walks … that’s a good thing.”