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Santana set to make debut in Twins' rotation

Veteran righty will start Wednesday's game at Rogers Centre
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

KANSAS CITY -- Right-hander Ervin Santana will make his long-awaited return to the Twins' rotation on Wednesday in Toronto, manager Paul Molitor said on Sunday.

Santana, who has been out since undergoing surgery to remove calcium deposits from his right middle finger in early February, made his final rehab start with Triple-A Rochester on Friday. He went six innings, allowing one run on two hits and three walks, while throwing 66 pitches.

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KANSAS CITY -- Right-hander Ervin Santana will make his long-awaited return to the Twins' rotation on Wednesday in Toronto, manager Paul Molitor said on Sunday.

Santana, who has been out since undergoing surgery to remove calcium deposits from his right middle finger in early February, made his final rehab start with Triple-A Rochester on Friday. He went six innings, allowing one run on two hits and three walks, while throwing 66 pitches.

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Left-hander Adalberto Mejia will start Monday's series opener against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, but he is expected to be optioned after the game with Santana taking Mejia's spot in the rotation. Right-handers Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi will make their next starts on extra rest because of the addition of Santana on Wednesday.

"It's going to be a little bit of changing it up in terms of where to slot [Santana] in," Molitor said. "We thought keeping him on his regular rest would be good."

Santana, 35, was initially expected back in late May, but he suffered a few setbacks after the surgery, including ending his first rehab assignment early for further testing in May. Santana made seven rehab outings in the Minors with Class A Advanced Fort Myers, Double-A Chattanooga and Rochester, posting a 3.72 ERA with 22 strikeouts and six walks in 29 innings.

Santana's average fastball velocity has topped out at roughly 90 mph, but the Twins believe he can still be effective despite the diminished velocity and that it will come back as the season goes along. Santana's fastball averaged 92.9 mph last year, when he posted a 3.28 ERA in 33 starts. He struck out 167 and walked 63 in 211 1/3 innings.

Santana is an impending free agent, but he isn't expected to be moved before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31 because of the injury. Minnesota holds a $14-million club option for '19, but it's not expected to be picked up.

Worth noting
• The Twins are experimenting with bullpen games in the Minor Leagues, as right-hander Trevor May served as the opener at Rochester on Sunday with right-hander Zack Littell following him. They've noticed the success the Rays have had using relievers as starters this season and Minnesota wants its pitchers to become accustomed to it in case it's something the club implements in the future.

"We're exposing some of our guys to what that actually might look like," Molitor said. "Whether they're the actual people involved with it down the road or just the fact to see it and get more comfortable with it."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Ervin Santana