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Maeda, Wacha hold night duel in Twins victory

Minnesota ace gives up first run of spring at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Mar 21, 2021

Twins ace Kenta Maeda had a good night for a mere mortal with one run allowed on four hits in 5 1/3 innings and six strikeouts against the Rays Saturday night in Fort Myers. It was the first run he has allowed this spring. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Twins ace Kenta Maeda, flawless this spring, had only one item to check off his to-do list Saturday night against the Rays in Fort Myers: show he is human and give up a run.

Maeda allowed one earned run on four hits while striking out six and walking one in 5 1/3 innings as the Twins beat the Rays 2-1 in the first night game of the spring at CenturyLink Sports Complex.

It was the hardest Maeda had been hit all spring, raising his ERA to 0.63 and WHIP to 0.42. Batters are making him look like a near-mortal again, swinging .098 against him in 14 1/3 innings.

The air was a bit brisk for this time of year at Hammond Stadium, with a chilly wind for Lee County.

Aside from putting on an undershirt after the second inning, Maeda was his usual self, keeping hitters off-balance with a dizzying aray of pitchers – fastball, sinker, slider, split-change, curveball and for further effect – a newly developed slower curveball at 67 mph that was just off the plate.

Twins ace Kenta Maeda had a good night for a mere mortal with one run allowed on four hits in 5 1/3 innings and six strikeouts against the Rays Saturday night in Fort Myers. It was the first run he has allowed this spring. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

He used his sinker eight times, the most he has shown the pitch he is tinkering with this spring. Maeda said he is using the sinker to get in on righties and away from lefties.

While Maeda’s stinginess with baserunners has been noticeable this spring, his opponent on Saturday finished the night even less forgiving.

Tampa Bay starter Michael Wacha allowed just one hit over four scoreless innings, striking three and extending his scoreless streak to seven innings for the spring.

Twins hitters are having just as tough a time figuring out Wacha as hitters are having solving Maeda. Wacha has faced the Twins for six of his seven innings and allowed just two baserunners.

Wacha retired the first nine batters he faced Saturday until Twins second baseman Luis Arraez doubled. He showed a slick fastball which hit 95 mph and mixed in a cutter, curveball and changeup.

Twins slugger Nelson Cruz lays off a high fastball from Rays pitcher Michael Wacha Saturday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

A reconstitution of Wacha this season would be just the latest of great finds the Rays are used to catching. Wacha, an All-Star with the Cardinals in 2015, struggled with the Mets last year and was signed to a one-year, $3 million deal in the offseason.

Maeda’s night

After a 1-2-3 first inning, Maeda gave up a home run to infielder Mike Brosseau, who reached out for a darting slider off the plate and took it the opposite field in right. Brosseau is not a hitter who is intimidated by good pitchers. Last postseason, he knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs by launching a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning off a 100 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman.

Maeda said he thought he made a good pitch. “He put a pretty good swing on it,” Maeda said. “It just carried out.”

Maeda’s slider was sharp most of the night, getting three strikeouts on the pitch. Three Rays batters went down swinging on Maeda’s split-finger changeup.

Twins ace Kenta Maeda had a good night for a mere mortal with one run allowed on four hits in 5 1/3 innings and six strikeouts against the Rays Saturday night in Fort Myers. It was the first run he has allowed this spring. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Twins hitters

Catcher Mitch Garber took a 94 mph fastball from Wacha as far down to the 405-feet mark in straightaway center as he could take it and it was caught by Twins centerfielder Manuel Margot.

The Twins got to the bullpen of the Rays, with four hits including a sacrifice fly from Kyle Garlick driving home Garver and a triple by hot-hitting Keon Broxton leading to a run off a single from Cruz.

Arozarena flashes tools

One of the surprises of the short season last year was Cuban product Randy Arozarena. Obtained in a trade with the Cardinals, Arozarena hit seven homers in just 23 games.

Twins second baseman doubles to right field off Rays starter Michael Wacha in the fourth inning Saturday at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

On Saturday, Arozarena had two hits off Maeda. He nearly legged out a hard-hit grounder that shortstop Andrelton Simmons made a nice play on. Arozarena also showed good speed in the outfield.

His line-drive single in the sixth inning, ended Maeda’s night after 75 pitches.