The Twins once were in the running to be part of a three-way trade with the Red Sox and Dodgers this spring, but Boston’s end broke down over long-term health concerns of righthander Brusdar Graterol, who would have been one of the players in the deal.
Even without the Red Sox, the Dodgers and Twins kept talking. Los Angeles didn’t mind taking the flamethrowing Graterol — and the Twins had eyes for Kenta Maeda.
Two starts into Maeda’s Twins career, the club is getting what it thought it would from the Japanese righthander.
Maeda backed up a good debut last weekend with even a stronger start Saturday, twirling six shutout innings and limiting Cleveland to one hit and one walk during a 3-0 Twins victory at Target Field.
Miguel Sano blasted two home runs to shake off early-season rust and Eddie Rosario added a solo shot — all coming off Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco — to supply the offense, and the Twins can win the four-game series with a victory in Sunday’s series finale.
The 32-year-old Maeda throws a slider, changeup and fastball and throws all of them at any point in the count. He was one step ahead of Cleveland hitters all night. Franmil Reyes nearly lost his uniform swinging at a 2-0 slider in the second inning, as he looked dialed in for a fastball. Maeda had only two three-ball counts and only had four batted balls off him over 100 miles per hour.
“You saw him pitching with that split change,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was extremely effective. I think he had great feel for it tonight. I don’t know how anyone could pitch much better.”
Maeda was so effective that it’s more noteworthy to recap the one thing that didn’t go right for him.
After four no-hit innings, Maeda got Bradley Zimmer to make weak contact on a 2-2 slider in the fifth and send a bouncer to second base. But the ball was hit weakly enough for it to be a close play. Second baseman Luis Arraez rushed in, grabbed the grounder and fired to first baseman Sano about the same time Zimmer hit the bag.
First base umpire Jerry Meals, also the crew chief, signaled out. The Twins challenged, but the call looked too close to overturn, and the ruling stood.
And that’s how Cleveland got its only hit off Maeda. He was removed after the sixth inning and only 83 pitches.
“If that were to be an out and if it was for a no-hitter then obviously I would have liked to kept going in the game,” said Maeda (2-0), who gave up two runs in five innings in winning his Twins debut Sunday against the White Sox. “But then again, we’re talking big leagues. It’s not very easy to go with a no-no.”
The long bottom of the fifth inning dictated Baldelli’s decision to go to the bullpen a little early. Trevor May gave up an infield single to Francisco Lindor and walked Zimmer but stranded both runners in the seventh inning; Cody Stashak issued only his second career walk but struck out Jose Ramirez with a man on to end the eighth; and Taylor Rogers finished up the two-hit shutout with a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save in as many games, completing a two-hitter.
Maeda is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA, and the Twins can’t wait to see more.
“That’s exactly why we acquired him,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “Because you know he has two plus off-speed pitches and he wanted to be a starter. It worked out great. We were looking for a starter. He came over and I think during spring training we could see the potential of him.
“Now that we’ve kind of gotten into the season, we understand what makes him so good. We went out to get his slider. We acquired him because of his slider and there you have it right there. That’s him producing for us in games.”