Maeda labors, lacks command vs. pesky Sox

Righty yields 7 runs over 4 2/3 innings in opener; Minnesota rally in 9th falls short

June 30th, 2021

CHICAGO -- As it turned out, the third time was not the charm for .

Twice in the last three days, Minnesota’s Opening Day starter had this start pushed back due to rainouts. Once that start finally came, it looked like all of Maeda’s progress since he came off the injured list had been washed away.

The right-hander matched career highs in walks (five) and earned runs allowed (seven) as the Twins’ bats mounted a fight but couldn’t erase the deficit in a 7-6 loss to the White Sox in Tuesday night’s series opener at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“I definitely did not have my command tonight, and that's something to be reflected and something to fix the next outing,” Maeda said.

Maeda’s tough outing had the added effect of halting some of the Twins’ momentum from their series victory against Cleveland over the weekend, which had given Minnesota seven wins in nine games entering this crucial set against the American Central-leading White Sox.

That carried into the top of the first, when Luis Arraez singled and Josh Donaldson crushed a homer off Lucas Giolito to immediately put Minnesota on top, 2-0.

However, even that didn’t come without its controversy, as on-field microphones appeared to catch Donaldson saying, “It’s not sticky anymore,” as he crossed home plate, evidently in reference to Giolito and Major League Baseball’s recent crackdown on pitchers’ usage of foreign substances.

Donaldson wasn’t available for comment after the game.

Things almost immediately went south from there. Pitching on eight days’ rest after the pair of rainouts, Maeda walked the bases loaded in the first inning and allowed an RBI groundout. He added another walk in the second and one more in a two-run third inning, when the White Sox took the lead as Maeda matched his career high in walks through only three frames. He was tagged for four more runs in the fifth.

Maeda had only allowed seven runs in two other starts during his career -- once earlier this season on April 21, and the other on Aug. 31, 2017, against Arizona. He and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli indicated that the humidity in the area ahead of a 10-minute rain delay during the third inning might have contributed to his wildness.

“Some guys having an inability to feel the ball with that continual perspiration showing up, I think, was a little bit of a challenge,” Baldelli said. “I think that was at least part of what was going on.”

That led to a cascading effect where Maeda’s average fastball velocity was back down to 89.7 mph, only a tick above where it was in his final start before he went on the injured list, as the right-hander sacrificed a bit of velocity on all of his pitches in an effort to stay in the strike zone early in his start.

Neither he nor Baldelli was worried about the quality of his stuff, three starts following his return from injury, but perhaps his holding back on the velocity had to do with why the White Sox had success up and down the lineup against him without help from the long ball, as seven of the eight hits he yielded were singles.

“I've been having some bad luck, especially today with blooper hits,” said Maeda, whose ERA increased to 5.56. “From here, I just have to keep fighting, keep grinding on the mound and hope for the best. Obviously, I'll be trying my best but things have to start rolling my way as well. I'll just keep fighting until that happens.”

The Twins mounted a brief comeback attempt in the seventh, when Trevor Larnach, Nelson Cruz and Max Kepler hit consecutive triples and Alex Kirilloff added an RBI groundout to close the gap. In the ninth, the Twins got the potential tying run to third against Liam Hendriks, who hit a batter, issued two wild pitches and a walk, and saw the Twins pull within a run on Jorge Polanco’s RBI groundout.

But Maeda’s wildness proved a bit too much, and if the Twins hope to actually take advantage of this final opportunity to make up ground, they need him to figure it out -- and fast.

“We fought all the way through the game,” Baldelli said. “Nothing came easy. It felt like regardless of what happened, you’re kind of behind the eight ball a little bit, but it didn’t matter. Our guys continued to play hard.”