ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Ervin Santana isn’t quite ready to #smellbaseball at Target Field quite yet, but he’s definitely on his way.
Santana began a 16-day rehabilitation assignment with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings on Saturday night with a strong, 88-pitch performance in a 10-1 thumping of the Louisville Bats.
While his fastball hovered mostly around 90 or 91 mph, Santana used his slider with great effectiveness over his 5⅔ innings. He allowed five hits, surrendered a second-inning run, struck out three and walked two.
Afterward, he proclaimed Start 1 of the PED-suspension comeback a success.
“Everything was very good,” said Santana, whose trademark hashtag on Twitter is #smellbaseball. “Location was good. Every pitch I throw was good.
“The good thing is that we won, first, and the second thing is that I did my job.”
Santana hadn’t pitched in an official game since Sept. 26, 2014, when he was with the Atlanta Braves. He signed the richest free-agent contract in Twins history in the offseason ($55 million over four years) and was expected to be the staff ace.
But three days before the season opener, Major League Baseball announced he had tested positive for the synthetic anabolic steroid Stanzolol and gave him an 80-game suspension. He has been allowed to work out at the spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla. Under MLB rules regarding suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, players are also allowed a 16-day window of rehabilitation with a minor league team.
Santana was added to the Red Wings roster on Saturday.
“He’s not locked in yet, but he’s on his way to being there,” Red Wings manager Mike Quade said. “It’s one thing to throw in Florida against kids but another to do it against better hitters.”
“As a pitcher you have to go up there and minimize damage and that’s it,” Santana said.
His suspension from MLB is without pay, so he hasn’t received a check yet from the Twins. He did, however, pay for the postgame clubhouse spread for his teammates Saturday.
Santana is scheduled to start again at Pawtucket on Thursday and then make a final start for the Wings against the PawSox at Frontier Field on June 30. If all goes well, he’ll make his first start for the Twins on July 5 at Kansas City.
He left to loud applause Saturday from the Frontier Field crowd of 10,545.
“I wanted to go more, but we have a schedule so I just follow the rules,” Santana said. “I don’t want to do too much.”
He escaped a first-and-third threat in the first inning with a pop-up and strikeout.
“When you have a man on third and one out, you need a strikeout, that’s the way you do it,” Santana said.
“A good night at the park,” said Quade, whose Red Wings scored three times in the first inning and led 7-1 after five.