While the Minnesota Twins lost their first game of the season on Tuesday night in Miami, fans were more concerned with the status of Kenta Maeda than the result of the game.
Minnesota had started the season 4-0, the team’s third best start in 40 years and looked poised to chance its longest undefeated streak since 1968. That all came to an end thanks to a brilliant start from reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara, but it was one that was almost equally matched by Maeda.
It was Maeda’s first start since 2021, when he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of last season.
Before his injury, Maeda was an ace for the Twins during the 2020 season and finished as an AL Cy Young finalist. That’s what made his return to the mound on Tuesday so special, as fans were hoping to see the pitcher they watched three years ago and for the hard rehab work Maeda put in to pay off.
For the majority of his start, a return to form is exactly what it looked like. Maeda finished the game with nine strikeouts and only three hits. His only mistake was a low inside pitch that Avisail Garcia blasted into the left field bleachers.
Other than that, Maeda held up his end of a pitching duel against Alcantara.
He only pitched five innings though, and the end of his start is where the concerns began. After surrendering a base hit to Jon Berti, Maeda shook his arm in discomfort which raised a red flag for Christian Vazquez and Rocco Baldelli. Both came out to the mound, along with a trainer, and Maeda soon exited his start.
As he walked to the bullpen, Maeda was rubbing his arm and appeared to be less than thrilled. That caused immediate panic across Twins Territory, given both the context of his return and the circumstances of his exit.
Rocco Baldelli gives Kenta Maeda injury update after concerning exit in sixth inning
Maeda stayed in the dugout after leaving the game, which was the first good sign that the concern was nothing to truly worry about.
After the game Rocco Baldelli provided a further update that put fears to rest.
”Kenta’s fine,” Baldelli said. “I think he was gassed. He had to work, come to the dugout and truthfully he was not in the dugout very long because the guy on the otherside of the field was having some very, very quick innings.”
That breeze you felt wasn’t the wind, rather it was Twins fans everywhere breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Rocco’s not wrong, there were some innings where Alcantara was walking back to the marlins dugout having retired the Twins side before he had time to break a sweat. So not only did Maeda pitch brilliantly in his return from Tommy John surgery, but he was able to do so without getting much rest.
Fatigue taking Maeda out of the start is a giant relief, rather than it being something more serious. After the start he gave the Twins on Tuesday, it looks like the pitching staff is in for a big year when a guy like Maeda is dealing the way he was as the fifth starter in the rotation.