Maeda earns first Opening Day nod for Twins

March 14th, 2021

Manager Rocco Baldelli announced that right-hander will be the Opening Day starter when the Twins face the Brewers in Milwaukee on April 1.

Maeda received the news after his start against the Orioles on March 9. To say he is excited about the special assignment is an understatement. It will mark the sixth time in his professional career that he will take the ball on Opening Day. The other five times happened while playing in Japan.

“When I first came over to Major League Baseball, being an Opening Day starter [is something] I never dreamed of,” Maeda said. “So I’m extremely happy to have my name announced as the Opening Day starter for the Twins. I’m excited for this opportunity.”

Since joining the Twins in a trade that sent outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley and right-hander Brusdar Graterol to the Dodgers on February 10, 2020, Maeda has been Minnesota’s best pitcher. During the 60-game season last year, Maeda was 6-1 with 2.70 ERA and a 1.5 WAR, which ranked third on the team.

This spring, Maeda has continued his dominance on the mound, throwing nine shutout innings and allowing just one hit.

“This year, I think Kenta put himself in position to start the first game for us,” Baldelli said. “The year that he had last year … there was no way of denying him [the assignment]. I think it was the right thing to do.”

In Sunday’s game that ended in a 5-5 tie against the Red Sox, Maeda pitched as if he was in midseason form, pitching four shutout innings and striking out five batters. Not known to have a blazing fastball, Maeda had a fastball that was clocked as high as 94 mph. His only blemish was when he allowed a two-out walk to Xander Bogaerts in the first inning.

After the game, Maeda said he is having the best spring of his career.

“It’s because I had a great season last year, which gave me more confidence in my pitching,” Maeda said.

Rooker continues to impress

Twins outfielder continues to impress, going 3-for-3 against the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon. Overall, he is 6-for-15 with a home run and two RBIs.

No one knows what the future will bring. Rooker will continue to get at-bats this spring, according to Baldelli, but Rooker has to get through a crowded outfield in order to make the team.

“We talked about Rook a few times this spring already. He had another nice showing today,” Baldelli said. “We know Rook could go out there and do some damage offensively. He puts together a lot of good at-bats. He hits the ball very hard on a pretty consistent basis.

“I think he could find ways to get into this lineup and help us. We know he can play both corners of the outfield. We know if we need someone to come in … you could always look for Rook to help out there. He can play some first base, too."

Worth noting

• Baldelli announced that will pitch the second game of the regular season against the Brewers on April 3.

• The Twins announced that they have optioned right-handed pitchers Jordan Balazovic, Dakota Chalmers, Jhoan Duran and Bailey Ober to the alternate training site and have reassigned left-handed pitcher Danny Coulombe and right-handed pitcher Ian Gibaut to Minor League camp.

• The Twins now have 55 active players in camp (19 non-roster): 26 pitchers (9 non-roster), seven catchers (3 non-roster), 11 infielders (4 non-roster), 10 outfielders (3 non-roster) and one designated hitter.