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05/14/09 2:14 AM ET

Angels' Santana revved for season debut

Los Angeles (17-15) vs. Boston (21-13), 12:35 p.m. PT

ANAHEIM -- Ervin Santana is back, and the Angels are welcoming him with open arms.

An American League All-Star in 2008 and one of the game's dominant starters, Santana makes his season debut after a sprained collateral ligament in his right elbow surfaced in Spring Training, keeping him inactive.

John Lackey, having recovered from a right forearm strain, will make his season debut on Saturday in Texas. With Kelvim Escobar, rebounding from right shoulder surgery in extended Spring Training, eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list on June 4, the Angels could have a dominant set of starters -- if their health cooperates.

Joe Saunders, who starts on Friday in Texas, and Jered Weaver, who goes on Sunday against the Rangers, are off to starts worthy of All-Stars.

Santana prides himself on his conditioning, and he thinks that helped him come back to what the Angels believe is a Major League competitive level after two Minor League rehab outings.

"I feel good," Santana said. "I'm ready to go, see what happens."

Santana, 26, agreed on Feb. 14 as Spring Training began to a four-year contract extension through 2012, with the club holding an option for a fifth year. He'll make $30 million for the next four years with the option worth $12 million.

Santana has been with the organization since Sept. 2, 2000, when he signed as a 17-year-old free agent from San Cristobal, Dominican Republic.

He appeared in the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium last year en route to a 16-7 record and 3.49 ERA in 32 starts. He struck out 214 hitters, second in the AL, while walking only 47 in 219 innings as the team's workhorse.

Santana had rebounded from a dismal 2007 when he was 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA. For his career, he's 51-37 with a 4.42 ERA in 116 appearances, all but two as a starter.

Santana, who pitched 6 1/3 innings in the Dominican Winter League before developing the sprained elbow, maintained that he is improving in his knowledge and command of the craft.

"Every year you learn something different," he said. "You're around people with more experience, and they teach you how to be successful."

Escobar has been especially helpful to Santana in stressing the importance of putting aside bad games and not letting them interfere with the next start.

"It's all about work," Santana said. "When you work hard, you're going to get your goal. I put in a lot of hard work to get here."

The Angels' offense came roaring to life on Wednesday night against Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Mike Napoli was behind the plate -- he threw out Jacoby Ellsbury trying to steal second -- but figures to return to the DH role against Brad Penny.

Napoli launched a monstrous three-run homer to dead center against Wakefield, his sixth of the season, during a five-run third inning to give the Angels a one-run lead.

Napoli, with 52 career homers in 796 at-bats, has the highest lifetime home run ratio among catchers with at least 50 homers in Major League history.

Pitching matchup
LAA: RHP Ervin Santana (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Santana makes his season debut, a collateral ligament sprain in his right elbow that surfaced during Spring Training having kept him sidelined. He made two Minor League rehab starts, most recently on Saturday for Triple-A Salt Lake, and built his pitch count to 80, a level where the club is comfortable. Santana emerged as an All-Star in 2008 en route to a 16-7 record and 3.49 ERA in 32 starts. With a mid-90s fastball, complemented by quality off-speed stuff, he struck out 214 hitters (second in the AL) while walking only 47 in 219 innings as the team's workhorse. Santana had rebounded from a dismal 2007 when he was 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA. For his career he's 51-37 with a 4.42 ERA in 116 appearances, all but two as a starter.

BOS: RHP Brad Penny (3-1, 6.90 ERA)
After registering four quality starts in six outings to begin his Red Sox career, Penny will get the nod in Thursday's series finale after logging a season-high 6 1/3 innings in his last start against Tampa Bay. The burly right-hander limited the defending American League champion Rays to three runs in each of his previous two outings, amassing 10 strikeouts and issuing just four walks.

Reliever Rafael Rodriguez was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Santana. ... Angels starters have thrown their first career shutouts three times (Saunders, Weaver and Matt Palmer) in a six-game stretch, giving manager Mike Scioscia the length he'd been seeking from them. ... Palmer and Shane Loux are 3-0 combined with a 3.12 ERA over their past seven starts. ... Excluding postseason play, the Angels have won 11 of the past 13 against Boston, outscoring the Sox by 30 runs (68-38) in the past 11 games. ... In his past 32 games, dating to last September, Napoli is hitting .402 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs. ... Torii Hunter is a career .330 hitter against Boston, and his homer against Wakefield on Wednesday was his fourth against the knuckleballer. ... Kendry Morales has 19 RBIs in his past 22 games. ... Bobby Abreu has eight walks in his past three games.

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Up next
• Friday: Angels (Joe Saunders, 5-1, 2.66) at Rangers (Kevin Millwood, 3-3, 2.92), 5:05 p.m. PT
• Saturday: Angels (John Lackey, 0-0, -.--) at Rangers (Vicente Padilla, 2-2, 4.97), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Sunday: Angels (Jered Weaver, 3-1, 2.45) at Rangers (Scott Feldman, 2-0, 4.85), 11:05 a.m. PT

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.