Matt Shoemaker has had surgery over the past five years on a ligament in his left knee, a nerve in his right arm, a tendon in his right elbow and a blood vessel in his brain. But when he's healthy, Shoemaker throws one of the most feared pitches in the game, a split-fingered fastball that dives into the dirt.
That pitch, and the prospect that the 34-year-old righthander is intact again, gave the Twins enough confidence on Monday to add Shoemaker to their starting staff, signing the free agent to a one-year contract worth $2 million, a source with knowledge of the transaction confirmed.
Shoemaker gives the Twins six pitchers with significant starting experience, but in a season in which the Twins expect to take extra care not to overextend a pitching staff that played only 60 regular-season games a year ago, all six should receive plenty of opportunity.
That chance likely attracted Shoemaker, who finished runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting with the Angels in 2014, to choose the Twins after two injury-riddled seasons with the Blue Jays. The 34-year-old veteran, who wasn't drafted out of Eastern Michigan in 2008 and signed with the Angels, made 71 starts from 2014-16, and twice in that stretch he posted ERAs below 4.00.
He threw a career-high 160 innings in 2016, but his season was suddenly ended on Sept. 4 when a line drive off Seattle infielder Kyle Seager's bat struck him in the head, an incident that fractured his skull and required surgery to repair a hematoma.
That set off a nightmarish run in injuries over the next five years; Shoemaker has thrown only 167 innings since then.
Shoemaker's 2017 season was cut short when he needed surgery to repair a compressed nerve in his pitching arm. A year later, the pain returned, and surgeons discovered a tendon in his elbow that needed repair. In 2019, after getting off to a 3-0 start with a 1.57 ERA in his first season with the Blue Jays, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a rundown in April, ending his season. And last year, he missed four weeks with inflammation in his right shoulder.
The Twins, though, can bring him along slowly, with a stable of starters — Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ and Randy Dobnak — already in place, with rookies Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe also hoping to make the team.
Shoemaker has a 3.86 career ERA in 112 games, and though he's not a strikeout pitcher — 540 whiffs in 602⅓ career innings — his splitter, which he throws more than one-third of the time, has been particularly effective in inducing soft contact.