Canterino quiets his own doubts in stellar return to the mound

NORTH PORT, FLA. – There came a moment on Thursday — OK, probably more than one — when Matt Canterino stood on the mound at CoolToday Park and focused on his right elbow. Does it hurt? Is it working? Can I do this?

"I probably do it a little bit too much, if you ask everybody around here," Canterino said with a laugh. "I still check if it's in one piece, but it hasn't proved me wrong yet."

Nope, Canterino did the proving this time. He proved his surgically repaired elbow is healthy again, that after a 19-month layoff, he can throw 95 mph once more and that hitters still swing weakly at his best pitches. And one other thing:

"The stuff obviously plays," catcher Ryan Jeffers said. "If he goes on with the [stuff] he had today, there's a chance he could play a good role for us."

It's too early to say that for sure, but Thursday's two-inning, 33-pitch, 25-strike debut, his first competitive pitches since July 30, 2022, was a great start.

"He threw a lot of strikes. He was pounding the zone with all of his pitches," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Everything you want to see from him, he gave us."

Facing a lineup that won 104 games last year, Canterino retired the Braves on just 10 pitches in his first inning, getting Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Matt Olson to make weak contact. His first pitch was a fastball that hit 95 mph.

"I've got plenty of confidence that the velo is not going to be an issue," said Canterino, the Twins' second-round pick in 2019. "I feel like there's still more left in the tank."

He surrendered a leadoff double to Tyler Tolve in the next inning, and an RBI single by Michael Harris II. But Canterino then struck out the next three hitters, one on a changeup and two on sliders.

"I probably got over 50% swing-and-misses on sliders today, which [is] really encouraging, especially since that was the pitch I was really working on during my rehab," Canterino said. "I changed my grip trying to get it a little bit harder and a pitch shape that I thought would play a little bit better. The fact that it got swings and misses was all I could have hoped for."

By coincidence, Thursday's starter for the Twins was Chris Paddack, Canterino's rehab partner last summer while he, too, recovered from Tommy John surgery.

"I told him, 'Good luck today, man. Just reflect on the last 18 months of where you came from and how much it took to get back to this point,' " Paddack said. "Pretty cool to see him out there. I forgot how wicked he is."