- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Twins opening day starter Ervin Santana pitched six shutout innings Friday, and Trevor Plouffe and Kurt Suzuki homered twice in Minnesota’s 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Santana allowed three hits and struck out eight in his fourth start, leading toward his April 4 opening day assignment against the Baltimore Orioles.

“It was a nice day for him,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said after the right-hander lowered his ERA to a team-best 1.13 over 16 innings.

“You look for location, command and off-speed. He had those guys off balance most of the day,” Molitor added. “His slider must have been really good because he got some funny swings from some good hitters. … He’s on a good track. We’re obviously pleased with how he’s throwing the baseball right now.”

Plouffe and Suzuki combined to go 6 for 7 with five RBIs, and Byron Buxton also drove in a run with a third-inning sacrifice fly for the Twins.

Rays starter Drew Smyly allowed five runs and five hits in six innings. Plouffe hit a solo homer off him in the second inning and followed with a two-run shot off the left-hander in the sixth.

Plouffe finished 3 for 4, boosting his spring average to .361 with four homers and 12 RBIs. Suzuki was 3 for 3, including solo homers off Smyly in the fifth and Jhan Marinez in the seventh.

Brandon Guyer homered for Tampa Bay, going deep against Kevin Jepsen in the seventh.

STARTING TIME:

Twins: Santana, who threw 85 pitches and didn’t walk anyone, is preparing for his 11th season in the majors. He will begin 2016 ranked 11th among active pitchers with 126 regular-season victories, yet surprisingly this is the first time he’s been named an opening day starter.

“That’s kind of typical Erv. He was throwing a little harder from the get-go than I’m used to,” Suzuki, the Minnesota catcher, said. “You can kind of tell he’s getting into season form. … It’s nice to see.”

Rays: Smyly walked one and struck out four in his 93-pitch outing. He’s had a strong spring overall and appears to be on track to begin the season as the No. 2 starter behind Chris Archer. The rest of the rotation figures to be Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi, with Erasmo Ramirez possibly working out of the bullpen until a fifth starter is needed.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: Suzuki fouled a ball off the back on his left foot, one pitch before homering off Smyly. He remained in the game and didn’t report any problems with the foot after the game.

Rays: Closer Brad Boxberger is back in camp rehabbing after undergoing surgery last week to repair a core muscle in the right groin area. He said he’s targeting an early to mid-May return.

“I’ve already started light tossing. Then it progresses as the muscles feel well enough to do it,” Boxberger said.

UP NEXT:

Twins: Send Kyle Gibson to the mound in a day game against the Pirates in Bradenton. Kyle Lobstein is Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter.

Rays: Also travel to Bradenton to face a Pirates split-squad at night. Odorizzi gets the start against Francisco Liriano.

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