Radke remains leader of rotation
Right-hander to start seventh-straight opener
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Johan Santana is the pitcher who owns a 2004 American League Cy Young Award, was a winner of 20 games last season and was recently signed to a four-year, $40 million contract. He's 26 years old and entering the prime of his career.Brad Radke, 32, won 11 games despite having what many considered the best year he ever had on the mound. Back in January, who did manager Ron Gardenhire pick to be Monday's Opening Day starter at Seattle and his No. 1 man in the rotation? Well, duh. It was always going to be Radke. If you know the Twins, you weren't surprised the honor would be his again. The right-hander has been their dependable ace for a decade and this will be his seventh-straight Opening Day start (ninth overall). "Just go out there every five days and try to win a game," Radke said. "It doesn't matter to me who's No. 1 or No. 2. In my eyes, Johan is [No. 1]." But the Twins usually prefer continuity and loyalty within their ranks. That's why during January's TwinsFest, Gardenhire said it took he and pitching coach Rick Anderson about two seconds to make their decision. It took even less time for Santana and his teammates to accept it. "To me, it doesn't make any difference," Santana said. "I also have a lot of respect for Brad. He's been doing that for many years. He's been here and he's one of the best in the clubhouse and on the field." "Brad should lead the way because he's been around," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He was able to see this team grow from where we were. That's out of respect. There's no one in this clubhouse that hates that situation." Like he was last season, Santana will be the second man in the rotation. "That tells you what kind of pitcher he is," Santana said of Radke. "You're not talking about just any pitcher. You're talking about a front pitcher, No. 1 and one of the best in the game." "[Radke] is our No. 1," third baseman Michael Cuddyer said. "He's been it for the past decade. Obviously, Johan is another No. 1. We're fortunate in the fact we have two No. 1 guys when it comes down to it. Neither of them have egos to where it matters who's got the Opening Day start and who doesn't have the Opening Day start. It's a real joy to see that."
Since debuting with the Twins in 1995, Radke has gone 127-118 with a 4.23 ERA, including a 20-win season in 1997. He was a 1998 All-Star and by re-signing in 2000, helped spearhead the club's renaissance to three-straight American League Central division titles.Radke was 11-8 with a career-low 3.48 ERA in 2004. He was second in the AL in fewest walks-per-nine innings (1.1) and fourth in ERA, and pitched at least seven innings in 19 of his 34 starts. Unfortunately, Radke was often plagued by a lack of run support and the bullpen's knack for losing leads on the days he pitched. "He could very well have won 20 games last year the way he threw the ball," right fielder Jacque Jones said. "We didn't score runs for him." No player was a higher offseason priority this year for the Twins than Radke, who was on the market as a first-time free agent. Pursued by other clubs, including the Red Sox, he was offered more money and more years. But it was all about comfort for Radke, who signed a two-year, $18 million contract to remain in Minnesota. "There were some good offers, but I think I made the right decision," he said. "I've been with this organization for 10 years. I'd like to finish out my career out with these guys." Again, it's all about continuity.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.