FORT MYERS, Fla.-Ervin Santana touched his right thumb to his index and middle fingers and lightly rubbed them together like a chef delivering a pinch of seasoning to a mixing bowl.
"It feels better," the Twins right-hander said of his surgically repaired knuckle at the base of his middle finger. "Before, I couldn't even do this."
Stretching the fingers beyond his thumb, he smiled.
"Now I do a little bit of this," he said.
Gripping a baseball is still days away, if not a week or more, as Twins athletic trainers wait for the swelling to disappear following the Feb. 6 surgery. Santana is doing his best to remain patient.
"Right now the swelling is going down," he said. "We're trying to work on the knuckle because that's where all the swelling is so I can't really make a fist."
He said he believes he is still on schedule as he works toward a return to the big-league rotation in late April or early May but isn't obsessing over the calendar.
"I'm not thinking about the schedule or anything like that, just thinking about my recuperation," he said. "I don't worry if I'm on track or not. I'm just worried about my hand right now. One day at a time."
There will be another follow-up visit in New York with his hand surgeon, Dr. Charles Melone, in a little more than three weeks. Now that the calcium deposit has been removed from Santana's knuckle, is it possible his signature slider will be even more devastating than before?
"That's what the doctor said," Santana said. "He said it's going to be even better because I'm going to have more flexibility in my hand."
He'll take that, won't he?
"I'll take it every time," he said. "Why not?"
Odorizzi in the opener?
Nothing is official yet, but the Twins appear to be leaning toward starting newly acquired right-hander Jake Odorizzi on Opening Day in Baltimore.
Odorizzi will have an extra day of rest before taking the mound again Tuesday, which would then put him in line to start March 29 at Camden Yards with five days' rest. Odorizzi, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays last month, is 3-3 with a 5.44 earned-run average in nine career road starts against the Orioles.
Last year, however, he went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts at Camden Yards.
Jose Berrios, coming off a 14-win season, also is lined up for the honor but doing so could jeopardize his chances of pitching in his native San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the Twins' two-game series against the Cleveland Indians on April 17-18.
The Twins could make it happen with their projected four-man rotation to open the season, but that would require Berrios to make one start on short rest, something they would prefer to avoid with the budding young star.
Pushing Berrios back to the third game in Baltimore would allow him to start the home opener against Seattle on April 9 while also starting either game in Puerto Rico, ravaged last September by Hurricane Maria.
"I told him when I met with (Berrios) at the start of camp that was a strong feeling that I had and I would confirm it somewhere along the way," Molitor said. "We kind of have an idea how we're going to do it, but we're going to let it play out for just a little bit longer before we make anything official. I'm going to try to make it happen if I can."
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