- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

From combined dispatches

New York Mets ace Johan Santana doesn’t see any reason why he won’t be ready for Opening Day.

Santana, hindered last week by elbow tightness, threw 36 pitches in live batting practice Saturday before the Mets played an exhibition game against the Washington Nationals. It was the first time he’d faced hitters since knee surgery in October, and he said everything went well.

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“I pitched today with no problems in my elbow or my arm or anything, so I am fine, and at the same time I was working on my pitches and I was able to command it, so that’s what you want to see,” Santana said.

The left-hander threw mostly fastballs but also worked in some off-speed pitches. Only three pitches were put into play.

Santana took a break after the first 20 pitches to simulate the change in innings.

“For being my first time facing hitters, I think it was pretty good,” Santana said. “Everything was there - breaking ball was there, my change-up was there, my arm speed, my legs are there. That’s what you are looking for. You look for your legs to be there and to feel comfortable, and that’s how I felt.”

Pitching coach Dan Warthen liked what he saw, including the energy Santana showed while on the mound. Santana smiled throughout the session, even cracking jokes at times.

“I thought he pitched well,” Warthen said. “He’s showing progress. Every pitch came out of his hand really well. I thought he located the ball extremely well for the first time seeing hitters.”

Warthen said last weekend that Santana might not throw batting practice until March 13, but the two-time Cy Young winner insisted his elbow was fine. Now, the club has moved up his schedule, and he could pitch in a game next week.

“We have been working out, getting everything in the right way, the right track, and I don’t think there will be any problems,” Santana said.

Santana had complained of tightness in his left elbow and was scratched from a start Feb. 27 when he was supposed to pitch in a scrimmage against the Italian national team. After a three-day break, his condition improved enough for a return to work Sunday and he made further progress Wednesday, when he threw a strong 46-pitch side session.

“We’ll go one step at a time,” Santana said. “We will see how it is [Sunday] and see what my next step will be. I felt pretty good, and we’ll go from there.”

TWINS: Right-hander Scott Baker agreed to a $15.25 million, four-year deal with Minnesota.

Baker went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA in a career-best 28 starts last season. The 27-year-old is 28-24 with a 4.23 ERA in four seasons, all with the Twins.

Minnesota announced the deal on Saturday. It also includes a $9.25 million club option for the 2013 season.

WHITE SOX: Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon are ready to face hitters.

Both right-handers are scheduled to throw batting practice at Chicago White Sox camp Monday, the next step after each threw 55 pitches in a bullpen session Saturday without any problems.

“It was a very positive day,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “We’re more and more excited about their chances to be ready to open the season.”

It was the third bullpen session since Monday for Contreras and Colon. Without setbacks, they could see Cactus League action in about a week.

Contreras is more than three months ahead of schedule after rupturing his left Achilles tendon last August. Colon is coming off offseason surgery to clean up bone chips in his right elbow.

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