Maeda (forearm) exits loss; imaging next

August 21st, 2021

NEW YORK -- missed the strike zone for the eighth consecutive time and knew something wasn’t quite right. As the right-hander watched Aaron Judge take first base in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday afternoon, he motioned toward the Twins’ dugout. Manager Rocco Baldelli and a trainer jogged out onto the field, and after his teammates surrounded the Yankee Stadium mound, it was clear that Maeda’s day was done.

That’s where the game started to come apart at the seams for the Twins in a 7-1 loss, their third straight defeat to the Yanks in the series. Reliever Edgar García, who only began warming up in the bullpen during the injury delay, took Maeda’s place and promptly gave up a pair of two-run doubles to Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit in what turned into a five-run fifth.

Four of those runs were charged to Maeda, who exited with right forearm tightness. It was an unfortunately abrupt end to an outing in which the 33-year-old seemed to be in control, allowing just two hits (one run) through four frames. It also changed the complexion of what had been a tight one-run affair as Maeda dueled Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

“[It’s] something he’s dealt with on and off throughout this year,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Maeda’s forearm tightness. “He pitched pretty well today up until that point. I thought he had a good start going for himself, and even in that inning, up until that point, there was really not a lot to look to or point to or think about as far as any health questions.

“… But he did look uncomfortable right at the very end right before we took him out.”

After allowing a double and a single with one out in the fifth inning, Maeda threw four consecutive balls to Anthony Rizzo, hitting the slugger above his right knee on an 80.6 mph slider. On his third offering to the next batter, Judge, Maeda misfired a 83.6 mph slider down and away, allowing the Yankees to score on a wild pitch. His next pitch -- a high 90.3 mph fastball for ball four -- turned out to be his last of the afternoon.

Though Maeda could be seen visibly shaking his throwing arm in what appeared to be discomfort as the frame unfolded, Baldelli clarified that it’s something the veteran starter has done often this season. It wasn’t, in and of itself, a distressing sign. But Maeda’s glaring command woes did concern the skipper and his staff, convincing them that they “needed to get him out of the game.”

“The command of the pitches normally would be one of the first things that would go when someone’s dealing with something physically,” Baldelli said. “It might not be a velocity dip; it might just be scattering the ball around. And with the way he was throwing the ball, that looked a little odd.”

Given that Maeda was pitching on an extra day of rest -- with the Twins managing his innings workload after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season -- he pleaded his case to remain in the game during the mound visit. But Baldelli refused to risk his ace’s health.

“There was really no debate to be had,” he said. “But Kenta, knowing him, I’m not surprised that he was asking for a minute to reassess the situation, slow it down, see how he really felt and then make a decision. There are times for that. This was not one of those times.”

The blow of losing Maeda in such sudden fashion was exacerbated by the fact that the Twins had their own chance to crack Cole in the top half of that fifth inning. Minnesota loaded the bases with only one out, courtesy of back-to-back singles and a walk, and with two of the club’s best hitters -- Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson -- batting next, a breakthrough seemed imminent. But Cole dug in and struck out both of them to end the threat.

“He got that big contract for a reason,” said catcher Ryan Jeffers. “He’s a really good pitcher, and he’s going to go out there every day and give the Yankees a really good start. We strung a couple hits together here and there but not enough to really find a rhythm offensively. … We were never able to really capitalize on those hits, and we ended up with the situation we got.”

As far as Maeda’s status going forward, the Twins are still in the early stages of the evaluation process. He will undergo imaging and testing in the next few days, but beyond that, Baldelli did not want to speculate on whether the righty might be in line for his next start or whether a stint on the injured list might be forthcoming.

“I don’t want to start making statements that I’m not completely sure about yet,” he said. “I don’t see very many scenarios right now where it’s not going to take some time to get Kenta back where he needs to be.”