Twins’ Kenta Maeda pitches in first game in 18 months

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kenta Maeda only threw 13 pitches on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, but those 13 pitches marked a major milestone for the veteran starter.

The last time Maeda took the mound in a game, he walked off the mound with a sore elbow. Tommy John surgery and more than a year of rehab followed. And so when Maeda got back on the mound to pitch the first inning in Saturday’s 8-4 win over the Rays at Hammond Stadium, there was perhaps a little more excitement than there would be for a regular spring training game.

“It was really fun to be able to pitch today, starting with the preparation,” Maeda said through interpreter Daichi Sekizaki. “Listening to the national anthem, hearing my walk-up song, giving high fives in the dugout with the teammates before I took the mound, all of that got me hyped up. I’m really glad I was able to come back.”

Of course, Maeda’s return wasn’t such a momentous occasion for Rays leadoff hitter Josh Lowe, who took the first pitch he saw and turned it into a double. But after that hit, Maeda retired the side in order, striking out a batter and inducing a pair of groundouts.

He threw 13 pitches, 10 for strikes. His fastball topped out at 90.7 miles per hour in his first start, and Maeda said he expects his velocity to tick up a couple miles per hour as he gets further into spring.

How hard would he like to throw?

“Ideally speaking, 100+,” he joked.

While 100 miles per hour from the veteran is not in the cards, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said both he and pitching coach Pete Maki were happy with Maeda’s stuff and what they saw from the veteran on Saturday.

“(It was) a very successful day and one we’ve been waiting a very long time for,” Baldelli said.

New rules

Maeda was slightly worried about pitching with the new clock for the first time in game play. But in the end, the starter said it, “wasn’t as bad,” as he thought, saying he was aware of it ticking down the seconds but that he didn’t think it affected him too much.

It sure affected the game, though, which finished in a crisp 2:31.

“I think the feel you get from this game is the game has kept moving, but I didn’t see anyone rushed,” Baldelli said. “The goal is to keep things flowing, keep things going and not get in our way in any way. Just keep the game going. And it did.”

There was one moment in the second inning where there was some confusion with the new rules as the Rays got called for a shift violation; starting this year, all infielders must be on the dirt with two on each side of second base. Joey Gallo, who was on third base, trotted home but he was sent back and a ball was assessed.

“I thought we could go 190ish games or 200 games this year, combined, and maybe not see one, but we got through about, what, a few innings and there it was,” Baldelli said.


— Four hall of famers were in camp on Saturday with Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and Paul Molitor all having traveled to Fort Myers.

— Reliever Jhoan Duran started his outing with a 101.9 mph fastball and finished it with his hardest pitch of the day: 102.5 mph. He threw a scoreless inning.

— Top prospect Brooks Lee knocked in a run with a single in his first Grapefruit League at-bat.

— Catcher Christian Vázquez was scratched from the lineup with an illness.

— The Twins sent a group up to Sarasota, Fla., for a split squad game against the Baltimore Orioles. They lost 10-5. Maplewood’s Louie Varland threw two scoreless innings.

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