Feeling ‘full strength,’ Maeda looks more like ace he was last season

·4 min read

ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Before a game in Seattle last week, Kenta Maeda and Ichiro Suzuki stood in the outfield at T-Mobile Park chatting, with the Hall of Fame outfielder occasionally raising his arm in a pitching motion.

"Ichiro asked me how I throw my slider," Maeda explained Sunday. "Since he throws [batting practice to the Mariners], I think he wants to get some swings and misses."

He's come to the right man, apparently. Maeda, only a week returned from a three-week shutdown to let arm soreness disappear, looked like the Twins' staff ace of 2020 on Sunday, shutting out the Rangers until tiring in the sixth inning. And the slider that fascinated Ichiro was the main reason why.

"I struggled with the movement of my slider early on in the season. The shape wasn't there," Maeda said after picking up his third win of the season, 4-2 over Texas. "But since my last outing, I've been getting a lot of swings and misses, so I think my real slider has come back."

Maeda got a dozen swinging strikes on Sunday in his 5⅓-inning start, nine of them on sliders. His control was back, too; after walking three last Monday against the Mariners, he issued only one walk Sunday. He retired the Rangers on seven pitches in the fifth inning, and only allowed one runner to reach second base until back-to-back home runs by Adolis Garcia and Joey Gallo — yes, on sliders, too — abruptly ended his day in the sixth.

"The arm feels great. It's nice to have the speed back, especially with the arm feeling strong," Maeda said after his fastball routinely registered 92 miles per hour. "In the last outing, it was the first game off of the IL, so I just felt out things here and there. But today I was able to go full strength, so that really felt good."

About 10 players sick

Not all of the Twins feel really good. More than a dozen players and staff members, in fact, have come down with a virus, though thankfully not the one that sidelined several players in April.

"There's something being passed around the clubhouse," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We've got about 10 [players] who are sick in the clubhouse with pretty bad colds right now."

The Twins believe that playing three games in the cool, damp nighttime weather in Seattle, followed by three days in the air conditioning of Globe Life Field may be to blame, but nobody is feeling bad enough to be out of the lineup, Baldelli said.

"But I'll be honest," he said, "after all the COVID-related stuff that we've already been dealing with, a little cold hasn't bothered our guys as much as it normally would."

Saints' Duran on IL

The Twins put Jhoan Duran, one of their best pitching prospects, on the seven-day Class AAA injured list because of a strained right elbow. Duran was removed from his most recent start for the St. Paul Saints on Tuesday after throwing 35 pitches in just two-thirds of an inning.

The Twins also added a pitcher at St. Paul on Sunday by signing righthanded reliever Kyle Barraclough, who has five seasons and 270 games of major league experience. Barraclough, 31, was released by the Yankees after posting a 3.21 ERA at AAA Scranton with a 24-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Originally drafted by the Twins in 2011 but unsigned, he has a career 3.53 ERA from 2015 to '19 with the Marlins, Nationals and Giants.

Etc.

•Mike Bell's son, Luke, will throw out the first pitch at Monday's game in Target Field in memory of his father, the Twins' bench coach, who died just before the season began. David Bell, Reds manager and Mike's brother, will catch the ceremonial pitch.

•Nelson Cruz arrived at the ballpark Sunday with a sore neck he believes was caused by sleeping awkwardly, but the Twins slugger tried to play. After singling in the first inning and striking out in the third, it was still bothering him, so Baldelli pinch hit for Cruz in the fourth, inserting Miguel Sano in his spot.

•Michael Pineda played catch in the outfield before Sunday's game, the first activity for his sore right forearm since going on the injured list last week. He is tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday.

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