Asked to pick the best pitcher in the NL East, New York Mets ace Johan Santana had a quick answer.

"Santana," he said yesterday.

Santana reported to spring training expressing confidence in both his team and his surgically repaired left elbow.

"We are confident about the things we can do," Santana said. "We are healthy and we are definitely happy to be back on the field and do the things we know. It's going to be a good atmosphere around here, and everyone wants to move on and get everything going."

Santana began throwing off a mound last month for the first time since August when he was shut down to have surgery to remove bone chips. He spent much of the offseason working out at Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla., and said he has made progress since first stepping back on a mound in Port St. Lucie during the Mets' 3-day minicamp at the end of January.

"I'm able to let it go," Santana said. "I am able to throw my fastball with no problems and throw my breaking balls and my changeup without feeling that sharp pain in the back of my elbow now. I am able to throw all my pitches pain-free, so that's a big plus for me."

Despite his elbow problems, he went 13-9 with a 3.13 ERA in 25 starts last year.


* The Cleveland Indians announced Mark Shapiro would be promoted to team president after this season and be succeeded as general manager by Chris Antonetti, his assistant for the last 9 years. Paul Dolan, son of owner Larry Dolan, will shift from president to chief executive officer, a title held by his father.

* Seattle has set Feb. 24 as the target date for lefthander Cliff Lee's first bullpen session of spring training. Lee is coming off foot surgery, and his workouts have been limited. "Cliff Lee will play catch, but other than that we're going to try to keep him off his feet for a couple of days," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.

* Houston beat lefthander Wandy Rodriguez in salary arbitration, meaning he will be paid $5 million this year instead of the $7 million he sought. Rodriguez, 31, was 14-12 last season with a 3.02 ERA. Owners lead players, 3-2, with four cases pending.

* Washington lefthander Ross Detwiler will miss at least 3 months after undergoing surgery this week to repair torn hip cartilage.

* Pittsburgh reliever Joel Hanrahan will miss the start of the regular season because of an injured right elbow and there is no timetable for his return. An MRI exam taken last week showed inflammation but no structural damage. He will get another MRI and a second opinion next week.

* Infielder Erick Aybar and the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a 1-year, $2.05 million deal that avoids salary arbitration.

* After Carlos Zambrano's disappointing 9-7 season for the Chicago Cubs a year ago that included two trips to the disabled list for hamstring and back issues, the righthander said he plans to keep his angry outbursts in check and his body healthy. He estimates he has lost 12 to 15 pounds through a new diet and is down to 260 pounds on his 6-5 frame.