'Just inflammation': Twins avoid dire situation after Mahle exits

April 28th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- After seeing Kenta Maeda leave Wednesday’s start with an injury to his throwing arm, the Twins were forced to pull starter early from Thursday’s game against the Royals.

Fortunately for Minnesota, it seems like they dodged a worrisome scenario with Mahle.

Mahle said postgame that the move was precautionary, as he dealt with right posterior elbow soreness.

“It’s just inflammation,” Mahle said. “No one’s really concerned about it. So, we just sit back for a few days, let it calm down and it should be fine.”

Mahle threw 66 pitches in Thursday's 7-1 win over the Royals, averaging 91 mph on his fastball, down from his season average of 92.9 mph.

He finished the fourth inning with a strikeout of Michael Massey, and reliever  came out for the fifth.

“In the fourth inning, it didn’t feel great,” Mahle said. “So, I think that’s when we decided that we’ll probably just take me out and be smart about it. It was feeling pretty good up to that point, and then just got a little worse.”

A day earlier, Maeda left his start with soreness in his pitching arm. An MRI showed a muscle strain and inflammation, and manager Rocco Baldelli said it’s likely Maeda is going to need “some down time.”

Baldelli said the team wasn’t ready to announce a move on Maeda or Mahle.

“I’m not ready to set off any alarms right now,” Baldelli said of Mahle. “We’re going to see how Tyler comes in tomorrow and probably use the next two-to-three days at least to figure out exactly where he’s at before we can know.”

Mahle’s early exit provided an opportunity for the 31-year-old Stewart to return to the Majors.

Stewart, who last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2019 for Toronto, had his contract selected from Triple-A St. Paul earlier in the week, and he earned the victory Thursday with two scoreless innings in his return.

“The first one, to get a ‘W,’ special,” Stewart said. “There were days where I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going through the grind of the whole rehab process. But I’m sure glad I did. I always hoped and prayed I’d get back to this moment. To be here now, it’s very special.”

Stewart pitched in independent baseball in 2020, had Tommy John surgery in 2021 and needed another surgery 10 months later to remove bone spurs in his elbow.

The right-hander is back and is throwing harder than before. He hit 97 mph on Thursday and averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball in the game.

“This is kind of what he’s looked like in St. Paul, and we got more of it here,” Baldelli said. “He was good. He was good against righties, he was good against lefties. Stuff looked pretty nasty. So that’s nice, to add an arm like that to our 'pen.”

The Twins' starting rotation has been a big reason they lead the AL Central. Their 3.18 ERA from their starters is the fourth-best in the Major Leagues.

leads the Majors with a 0.62 ERA, with (2.81) and  (3.00) also ranking in the top 25. Mahle is 1-2 with a 3.16 ERA in his first full season with Minnesota.

Mahle was acquired from Cincinnati at the Trade Deadline last year in exchange for Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Steve Hajjar. The 28-year-old missed some time last season with a shoulder issue before and after the Deadline.

His first shoulder trouble last season happened to also occur in a start against Kansas City.

“What he does is a nice job of clustering his pitches in specific locations,” said Royals first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, who homered in the fourth off Mahle for the Royals’ only run. “I hope he’s OK. that’s two times in a row we’ve faced him here that something has happened, so I hope he’s all right.”