One of the best pitchers in the league was on display Friday night.
And Kenta Maeda did not disappoint.
Building on previous outings, and continuing his mastery of Cleveland, the righthander was the star of the show, outpitching Shane Bieber as the Twins won 3-1 to take the first game of a three-game series. It was the start of a 10-game stretch in which they face three teams with at least 26 victories.
On the mound, Maeda shut out Cleveland for seven innings on four hits and two walks while striking out seven. This was Cleveland’s third shot at Maeda this season, and the Indians are still unable to figure out his fastball-slider-changeup combination. In those three starts, Maeda has a 0.50 ERA.
In the field, Maeda bounced off the mound in the fifth inning to grab Tyler Naquin’s slow roller down the first base line and flipped the ball out of his glove to Miguel Sano to get Naquin just in time.
Controlling the running game is something else Maeda excels in, as he picked off Francisco Lindor in the sixth. Lindor had led off the inning with a single, but Maeda made five pickoff throws to first between pitches to Cesar Hernandez, finally getting Lindor with the fifth on play the Twins had to ask for replay to confirm.
“The pickoff is a huge play in the game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He fields his position exceptionally well. There are really no weaknesses in what he does. He just has strengths on top of strengths, and it was pretty amazing watching him go.”
Overall, Maeda is 5-1 with a 2.43 after outperforming Bieber, who began the night 7-0 with a 1.25 ERA. But Cleveland’s ace saw Byron Buxton and Ryan Jeffers take him deep.
“He’s a pretty athletic guy,” Jeffers, the Twins rookie catcher, said of Maeda. “Obviously he can pitch, we all know that, but it’s kind of cool seeing him go to work with runners on first base and then field his position, too.”
The Twins battled the elements early as well as Cleveland, as the start of the game was delayed 42 minutes by rain. The first few innings were played in a steady mist.
Jake Cave, 5-for-12 against Bieber coming in, stroked a one-out double to left-center in the second. Buxton stepped to the plate, got a first pitch slider and cannoned it into the seats in left for two-run homer.
That’s not supposed to happen to Bieber, not this season. The righthander had not given up a home run since Aug. 9 when White Sox catcher James McCann got him. Since then, Bieber had not allowed a home run in 32 innings.
Moreover, Buxton’s rocket was measured at 115.6 miles per hour, the hardest hit ball off of Bieber this season.
“His fastball is one of the best in the league,” Buxton said. “It’s one of those where he don’t miss his spots, so before the game I just told myself, ‘Sit on an offspeed pitch.’ He happened to hang that pitch, and I didn’t miss it.”
Jeffers added his homer in the seventh to make it 3-0 before Jose Ramirez homered in the ninth off of Taylor Rogers for Cleveland’s only run.
The game got heated at the end of the eighth as Lindor flew out to left against Sergio Romo. Romo and Lindor began bickering with each other, and Miguel Sano had to step in between them and move Romo away from Lindor as the dugouts and bullpens emptied. Both teams were warned as they returned to their locations, and play resumed. Sano and Marwin Gonzalez checked with Lindor to make sure he wasn’t upset while Romo was led through the dugout and toward the tunnel.
That incident didn’t overshadow Maeda’s performance, though.
“It was very odd, but on a night where we knew we were facing maybe one of the best pitchers, we sent one of the best pitchers out there to face him,” Baldelli said. “Our guy won the battle and basically outpitched. No matter who he was facing, Kenta was going to outpitch him tonight.”