ST. LOUIS - When Johan Santana takes the mound Saturday at Busch Stadium, it will be his second straight start on extra rest to begin the season.

It's unusual treatment for a team's ace, especially a healthy one. Santana understands why the Mets are doing it, but he sounds as if he doesn't need it.

"The more I'm out there, the better I feel," Santana said before Friday's game. "But I know they want to get everybody going. Right now, they just want to get everyone on the right track."

Santana did not pitch well Sunday on five days' rest, allowing five hits and five runs in five innings. In 79 starts made on five days' rest, he is 37-25 (.597) with a 2.89 ERA and 4.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio. On his regular four days' rest, he is 66-30 (.688) in 132 starts with a 3.06 ERA and 3.96 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

"I had no clue," Santana said of the variance. The only real difference in his preparation, however, is maybe an extra light side session to get a feel for his pitches.

As for his early schedule, Santana is willing to accept it. "This is just the beginning of the season," he said, "and we've got a long stretch coming up."

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Iggy for the eighth

Jerry Manuel said he plans to use Ryota Igarashi as his eighth-inning setup man against the Cardinals and Cubs.

Manuel was impressed with Igarashi's perfect ninth in a 10-inning loss to the Rockies on Wednesday, when he threw 97 mph with a 90-mph splitter.

"The way Igarashi performed that last outing, he was like saying, 'Give me the eighth inning,' '' Manuel said, "and that's what we wanted to see."