Another Maeda masterpiece
Twins pitcher tosses four hitless innings against Red Sox in 5-5 tie
After a season in which he posted the second-lowest WHIP on record by a qualified starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins ace Kenta Maeda is not resting on his accomplishments.
On Sunday, he threw a masterpiece, tossing four hitless innings against the Boston Red Sox in a 5-5 tie, while extending his scoreless streak to nine innings. He continues to look fired up in exhibition games, showing max effort in a game at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
He has allowed just one hit during the spring, which means hitters are swinging a .032 batting average against him. His microscopic (walks and hits per innings rate) WHIP of 0.22 is making observers wonder what else he has left to prove in Fort Myers.
In five innings entering Sunday’s game against the Red Sox, Maeda had allowed just one hit, and walked none – aside from a hit batter.
He allowed just one baserunner on the day Sunday, a walk to Xander Bogaerts in the first inning.
“It’s scary when things are going too well. It might be better if I give up a run,” Maeda said.
Maeda almost got that in the third inning when Red Sox hitter Michael Gettys took a 1-1 slider down the middle out to the warning track in left field.
“It’s certainly my best spring,” Maeda said. Maeda said he is just building off the success of last year which was a confidence booster for him.
Twins Manager Rocco Baldelli announced after the game that he had named Maeda the Opening Day starter for the Twins.
“I’m so happy I might be floating a little bit,” Maeda said.
“The year he had (in 2020) was magnificent,” Baldelli said. “It was one of the best years I’ve been able to witness.”
Baldelli said Maeda’s combination of the action on his pitches, spin rate, his command and his preparation before games make him difficult on hitters. “He’s a tough guy to figure out,” he said. “He doesn’t make many mistakes.”
Maeda has been working on a slower curveball and two-seam fastball this spring. He showed off the slower curveball on Sunday at 70 mph, which drew a swing and miss from J.D. Martinez on the first pitch in the fourth inning. Maeda went on to strike out Martinez, his fourth punch-out of the day and second time of Martinez. Maeda threw the “faster” curveball at 75 mph in another at-bat. He also flashed an 89 mph sinking fastball for strikes. His four-seam fastball was clocked mostly in the 92-93 mph range, topping off at 94. He said his cutter is “getting there.”
Maeda said one of the keys to his success last year was the change in ratios for his pitches, which included an increased use of his split-change and lower use of his curveball. Through an interpreter, Maeda said he wants to use the curveball to throw strikes when hitters aren’t expecting a strike.
Before an inning starts, Maeda looks toward the outfield and down to get started, almost like a form of meditation. “It’s part of my routine dating back to Japan,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “It gives me calmness to get into my routine,” he said.
While Maeda was masterful, Boston Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi was working like a train, throwing 10 fastballs clocked at 100 miles per hour.
Eovaldi worked fast on the Twins hitters, but gave up four runs on seven hits in four innings. He gave up three runs in the fourth inning when it appeared obvious that Twins were lining up his pitches with hard contact.
Twins centerfielder Byron Buxton led off the third inning with a home run off Eovaldi – showing no signs of ill effect from a root canal last week after he chipped his tooth eating a steak.
Twins first baseman Miguel Sano drove in two runs in the fourth, though his average is sitting at .167.
Twins outfielder Brent Rooker made a strong impression with three hits including a double off Eovaldi. Rooker is batting .400, outhitting outfielder Alex Kirilloff who is batting .136 through Monday. The two players have been alternating in left field.
Baldelli said Rooker is “a guy we’re going to turn to for offense this year.” Rooker, the former national college player of the year at Mississippi State, hit .316 last year in 19 at-bats.
In the sixth inning, a circus catch in centerfield to snag an extra-base hit may have initially looked to some like it was just another day at work for Gold Glove and Platinum Glove winner Byron Buxton. The play was actually made by 22-year-old prospect Gilberto Celestino.
Red Sox minor leaguer Josh Ockimey hit a three-run homer in the eighth off Twins reliever Ian Hamilton to put Boston in front before the Twins tied the game in the bottom of the eighth.
The Red Sox also got blasts from Rafael Devers and Christian Arroyo as they continue to score a lot of runs in the spring.
After the game, Red Sox Manager Alex Cora said he thought Eovaldi looked good despite giving up four runs on seven hits in four innings.
“The more he pounds the strike zone with his stuff, he is going to be successful and we like that.”
Asked if he wanted to see Eovaldi hitting 100 mph this early or save it for the season, Cora said “it’s hard for us to slow him down. That’s who he is. When he gets to the ballpark, everything is at full speed. He’s at a great spot physically. He’s made some adjustments in the offseason. You see it. He’s at full-blast from the get-go.”