Twins righthander Ervin Santana is expected to head to New York sometime next week for a checkup on his surgically repaired middle finger, and also get cleared to start some sort of throwing program.
Santana, who had surgery on Feb. 6 to remove a calcium deposit, initially had trouble bending the finger and gripping a baseball. But he’s improved in recent days, during which he’s flipped a ball against a pitch back-type machine as part of his rehabilitation.
So it appears that Santana is about to reach a checkpoint in his comeback.
“I think he’s fairly comfortable with his baseball grip,” manager Paul Molitor said. “At this time, trying to figure out what his program is going forward in terms when he is going to throw, how much and how far and how long that is going to take.”
The Twins expected Santana to miss 10-12 weeks following the surgery, but 10 weeks looks to be too ambitious at this point.
There’s still an outside chance that Santana could return before the 12-week window closes. That would be in early to mid-May.
The first time Twins fans saw their new (old) closer, he walked leadoff hitter Dee Gordon on four straight balls and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning.
Not to worry. “It’s something he’s kind of used to,” Molitor shrugged.
Sure enough, Fernando Rodney kept throwing his fastball and quickly found the strike zone. He threw only three more balls, recording outs against the next three hitters: Jean Segura (strikeout) Robinson Cano (forceout) and Mitch Haniger (flyout).
“He’s going to have traffic from time to time, but he’s got stuff to pitch his way of it,” Molitor said. “He had to go through the tough part of their lineup, and even after a leadoff walk, he made some good pitches.”
All but one of his 15 pitches were fastballs, most of them 94-96 mph. “In the [cold] weather, I wasn’t sure the offspeed was working good. Most times it’s going to be hanging,” Rodney said. “It’s something you don’t want to happen. So I was just trying to find my spot with [the fastball].”
At 41 years, 18 days, Rodney became the oldest Twin ever to record a save. Only one other Twin has saved a game in his 40s. The last of Al Worthington’s 88 saves with the club came on Sept. 22, 1969, at the age of 40 years 229 days.
That’s no big deal either, said Rodney, who now owns 301 career saves. Pitching at 41 isn’t much different than at 31. Well, with one exception.
“It’s a little cold for 41,” he said.
The Sultan of Slap
The venerable Ichiro Suzuki hit the first pitch he saw from righthander Kyle Gibson on Thursday, grounding a single to left field for the 3,083rd hit of his decorated career. It was the kind of hit that inspired a Seattle writer years ago to nickname him The Sultan of Slap.
Suzuki, 44, signed with Seattle late in free agency as he waited for a team to come calling. It ended up being the Mariners, the team he broke in with in 2001 and played with for 13 seasons.
Molitor, who was Suzuki’s hitting coach in 2004, certainly knows about being a 40-something player. But he marvels at how Suzuki is taking that to another level.
“It’s impressive any way you look at it,” Molitor said. “To come over here after a fairly long run over there in Japan and still get his 3,000 [hits] here. He told me in 2004 he wanted to play until he’s 50. I’m not surprised he’s tried to continue to play.”
Problems with ticket scanners at Target Field led to long lines and forced many fans to miss the first pitch.
Staff writer Phil Miller contributed to this report.