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What a start: Kenta Maeda continues trend of quality outings from newcomers

MINNEAPOLIS — Jose Berrios might not be pitching as well as the Twins would like two appearances into this shortened season, but the team’s trio of offseason acquisitions have provided an important boost to the starting staff.

Kenta Maeda was the latest to make president of baseball operations Derek Falvey look like a smart man on Saturday, as the righthander had a second consecutive strong outing in the Twins’ 3-0 victory over Cleveland at Target Field.

Maeda, obtained from Los Angeles in a February trade that sent hard-throwing righthander Brusdar Graterol to the Dodgers, improved to 2-0 as he made Cleveland look helpless in six innings. Cleveland’s only hit came on Bradley Zimmer’s weak roller to second in the fifth. Luis Arraez charged the ball but his throw was a split second late. The only other runner against Maeda came in the first when Francisco Lindor walked.

Maeda used a variety of pitches, including his slider and change up, to keep Cleveland hitters off balance throughout as he retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced. He did not get a strike out until the third inning but fanned the side in that inning. Cleveland’s lineup doesn’t exactly strike fear in the heart of opposing pitchers, but they do have some sluggers like Franmil Reyes. Leading off the fifth, Reyes looked lost as he swung at Maeda’s 85-mile-per-hour change up for strike three.

“Kenta was spectacular tonight from the very beginning,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He had tremendous command and execution of his off-speed pitches. He saw some really good lefthanded hitters tonight, some really good hitters overall. They have a good lineup, but some really elite guys that he attacked. You saw him pitching with that split change. It was extremely effective. I think he had great feel for it tonight. I don’t know how anyone could pitch much better. He pitched us into a spot in the game where you’re really considering just leaving him in and letting him continue to go.”

Maeda’s outing was the longest by a Twins starter this season. “I think all my pitchers were there today, everything went well,” said Maeda, who walked only one and struck out six in lowering his ERA to 1.64. “I was able to locate the pitches where the catcher wanted. Everything went according to our pregame plan.”

This is why Maeda wanted to become a regular in a big-league rotation after being used as a starter and reliever by the Dodgers over the past three seasons. Maeda went 10-8 with a 4.04  ERA in 37 games and 26 starts last year and then was used exclusively out of the bullpen in the playoffs.

In four starts this season, Maeda and veteran free agent pickups Homer Bailey and Rich Hill have thrown a combined 21 innings, giving up four runs, 11 hits and five walks with 18 strikeouts. Maeda has made two of those starts and while he was very solid in the Twins’ 14-2 victory over the White Sox last Sunday, his Target Field debut was far more impressive.

All of these starters are at different points in their careers. Maeda is 32 years old and looking to establish himself as a full-time starter in his fifth big-league season. Bailey is 34  and looking for a career resurgence in his 14th season and Hill is 40 and attempting to keep his career going in his 16th year after having elbow surgery last fall. The one thing they all share is they have an approach that makes pitching a craft for them.

“When you see guys that have that type of career experience and you finally get a chance to see what it’s all about, and how they’ve gotten to this point in their careers, it is fun,” Baldelli said. “It’s fun for baseball people. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for everyone at home watching along. You do realize guys don’t get to this point in their career by accident, by chance and on just talent alone. They do it with all of the other things. Of course, they have great ability but they do it with their routines. They do it with the adjustments that they make during the games and we’re seeing that from Rich, from Kenta, from Homer. We’ve gotten to see that from all those guys. Just why they are good at what they do.”

Maeda’s performance came a night after Randy Dobnak continued to make his case to remain in the rotation by giving up only three hits and no runs in a 4-1 victory over Cleveland. Dobnak has been starting in place of Jake Odorizzi, who opened the season on the 10-day injured list because of back soreness but should soon return.

The weak link so far has been Berrios, who is the Twins’ No. 1 starter. Berrios has a 7.00 ERA after two starts and lost to Cleveland ace Shane Bieber in the opening game of the series. Berrios only gave up two runs but he threw 96 pitches in five innings. It took Maeda only 83 pitches to get through six innings on Saturday.

Cleveland starters were 5-0 with a 1.53 ERA through seven games after Bieber’s brilliant outing on Thursday. The Twins (6-2) have now handed Cleveland starters Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco back-to-back losses and will look to add a third name to that list on Sunday when righthander Aaron Civale (1-0, 3.00 ERA), another quality young starter in the rotation, faces the Twins.

SANO FINDS HIS TIMING

First baseman Miguel Sano was given the night off on Friday after starting the season 1-for-17 with eight strikeouts. Having missed much of the Twins’ summer camp after testing positive for COVID-19, Sano’s slow start was not a surprise given he did not have his timing at the plate.

Sano finally found his timing on Sunday. He gave the Twins a 1-0 lead in the third inning when he drilled Carlos Carrasco’s 93-mile-per-hour, four-seam fastball into the bullpen in left-center. The exit velocity was 110.6 miles per hour and the ball traveled 427 feet. Sano wasn’t done. Leading off the fifth, he turned on an 84.3-mile-per-hour slider from Carrasco and hit it 365 feet down the left field line to give the Twins a 3-0 lead. Exit velocity was 110.5 miles per hour.

“It felt great,” said Sano, who had the ninth multi-homer game of his career. ” … I’ve been working so hard every day to prepare myself for playing the game and do what I need to do.”

Sano said he had been watching video of himself from previous seasons, including last year when he hit a career-high 34 home runs, and noticed some things he needed to correct. “I have my hands up on my body,” he said.

Judging from the results, Sano’s film work proved to be time well spent.

FOR OPENERS

Baldelli said after Saturday’s game that reliever Tyler Clippard would serve as the Twins’ opener for the series finale against Cleveland on Sunday and that Bailey, who had been scheduled to start, would pitch Monday against Pittsburgh at Target Field.

“This is a recovery thing,” Baldelli said of the decision. “With everything that’s going on in the game, with everything going on with our schedule, with everything going on playing a lot of games coming up and not a ton of days (off). I would call it recovery related and just making sure that our guys are equipped to go forward and to continue pitching well and making their starts and being ready to go.”

Clippard served as the opener for Cleveland three times last season in his 53 appearances. He also was the opener for Toronto in one game in 2018.





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