– It was difficult to hear Paul Molitor as he held his daily briefing with the news media Tuesday, with all the laughter and shouting coming from the adjacent Twins clubhouse. The reason for the commotion wasn’t difficult to locate, either.

“I would think that Ervin [Santana] walking into a clubhouse would be a lift, just in itself,” the Twins manager said. “Whatever is going on out there, it’s probably good stuff.”

Yes, the All-Star righthander is back in a Twins uniform, nearly six months after surgery to remove calcium deposits from the middle finger of his pitching hand. Santana will start Wednesday’s finale in Rogers Centre, his first major league action since last October’s wild-card playoff game in Yankee Stadium.

“Everybody is welcoming me with open hands. It’s very exciting,” Santana said. The rehab from surgery “was a lot of ups and downs, but the good thing is, I kept my mind positive. Thank God I’m back in the big leagues.”

And though he might have missed nearly 100 games, or about three months longer than he originally had hoped, Santana believes he’s back in time to rally his team.

“We’re in good shape. We’re in second place right now, eight games back,” Santana said. “We still have two months left. We just have to keep playing the way we are right now.”

Of course, with the trade deadline now a week away, and Santana’s contract due to expire in November, he might not be a Twin for the final two months. But first he has to prove he can pitch effectively again.

Santana’s fastball was clocked between 88-90 mph in most of his seven rehab starts, and the 35-year-old veteran admits he currently can’t reach the mid-90s, as he did occasionally last year. But it’s temporary, he insisted.

“[The velocity] will be back. I talked to the doctor [Monday] and asked him about it,” Santana said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. You just had finger surgery, so it’s not like it was your shoulder or elbow.’ ”

His manager isn’t concerned, either.

“We’ve seen days where he’s gone out there and not tried to overextend in terms of trying to get every last ounce of fastball, and sometimes he’s pitched very effectively around the 90-mph range,” Molitor said. “When he’s feeling good, it’s nice to have that 95 in the tank once in awhile. … But I’m confident that even if he’s pitching at 89-90, 91 maybe a couple times, he’ll be fine. As long as he’s getting it where he’s trying to get it.”

Molitor doesn’t have a pitch count in mind for Santana’s debut; he threw 86 in a Class AAA game on July 15 with no trouble. Santana, who says the finger is still occasionally sore but doesn’t hinder his pitching, would like to pick right up where he left off last season.

“It would be a good start if I throw nine innings — if they let me,” he said. “I’m just going to be positive and have fun.”


• Eduardo Escobar was chosen by a committee of former players as the Twins’ winner of the Heart and Hustle Award, given annually to one player on each team “based on their passion, desire and work ethic demonstrated both on and off the field.”

• Byron Buxton took batting practice with Class AAA Rochester, his first on-field action since going on the disabled list because of a sprained left wrist 10 days ago.

• Addison Reed’s third bullpen session since going on the disabled list was a success. The Twins now expect to reinstate the righthander, sidelined since July 11 because of a triceps strain, sometime in the next couple of days.

• The inflammation in Aaron Slegers’ right shoulder “was a little slow to respond,” Molitor said, “but we’ve seen some progress the last couple of days.” The righthander has been on the disabled list since July 15.