(Sports Network) - For eight seasons with Minnesota, Johan Santana was one of the top pitchers in baseball. Luckily for the Twins, who face Santana for the first time since trading the left-hander to the Mets before the 2008 season, the former All-Star appears to be losing a step.
Santana will try to show that isn't the case this afternoon when New York hosts Minnesota in the second contest of a three-game series at Citi Field.
The 31-year-old is 1-2 over his last three starts, allowing four runs in each outing. That includes a loss on Sunday to the Yankees, who totaled eight hits over Santana's six innings of work, including a third-inning grand slam byMark Teixeira on an inside fastball that accounted for all the Yanks' runs.
"He's not striking out as many guys as he normally does," Mets catcher Rod Barajas said of Santana on New York's website. "When he could reach back and throw that 94 or 95 mile-per-hour fastball like it was nothing, that made it a lot easier."
That doesn't bother the Twins, who would rather face this Santana than the one that went to three All-Stars Games and won the American League Cy Young Award in 2004 and '06 while with Minnesota. In 251 games (175 starts) with the Twins from 2000-07, Santana went 93-44 with a 3.22 earned run average. He has won 34 games in two-plus seasons with the Mets, going 5-4 with a 3.31 ERA this year.
Despite Santana's recent struggles, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he would rather see the Mets pitcher watching the game from the dugout than firing pitches from the mound.
"It's not an exciting moment when you're facing Santana, no matter which way you look at it," Gardenhire told the Twins' website.
Gardenhire also can't be too happy to see Santana given that his team has lost a season-high four straight games and has scored just five runs in its past three contests. The Twins got a leadoff homer from Denard Spanin Friday's opener, but only managed his RBI ground out in the fifth inning the rest of the way in a 5-2 loss.
Kevin Slowey allowed five runs over six innings, but the Twins were able to maintain their half-game edge over the Tigers for first place in the AL Central thanks to Detroit's loss to Atlanta. The Mets, though, remained a half-game behind the first-place Braves in the NL East.
"It's just not working out for us right now and we have to play though it," said Gardenhire. "We go through stretches where the ball doesn't go your way and when you hit the ball hard it's right at someone. We just have to keep playing and work our way through it."
Slowing down the Mets' David Wright would also help. The third baseman hit a solo homer, had two RBI and scored twice in last night's win, upping his NL- leading RBI total to 59 while helping the Mets win for the third time in four games and improve to 16-5 in June.
"I'm in a good spot right now, I feel good," said Wright. "Hopefully I can continue to go out there and get the results and we can keep it rolling here."
Wright's big game, as well as runs batted in from Jose Reyes and Jason Bay, helped Mike Pelfrey win his 10th game of the season with six innings of two- run ball.
Wright, meanwhile, is hitting .389 (21-for-54) over his last 13 games. He has three homers and 19 RBI in that time and is 4-for-6 with a homer and three RBI versus today's starter for the Twins, Carl Pavano, who will try to record his fourth consecutive winning start when he faces the Mets tonight for the first time since May 22, 2005 while with the Yankees.
The Twins right-hander, who is 7-7 with a 3.60 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) versus the Mets, has allowed just six runs over 24 innings on his win streak and is coming off his second complete game of the season. On Sunday versus the Phillies, Pavano allowed just a run on four hits without a walk in going the distance, improving to 8-6 on the season with a 3.64 ERA.
The Twins are battling the Mets for the first time since taking two of three at old Shea Stadium in 2007 and have won five of the last seven in the series.