Maeda suffers ankle contusion, 'lucky to avoid a major injury'

Righty was playing in 3rd game back from Tommy John surgery

April 20th, 2023

BOSTON -- Considering the way Kenta Maeda was walking, smiling and cracking jokes after Thursday’s game, it would have been tough to tell that he’d been writhing on the grass in pain just two hours earlier.

He and the Twins felt fortunate after their 11-5 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday at Fenway Park that the injury was only a left ankle contusion after the right-hander was struck by a Jarren Duran line drive on the final play of the bottom of the second inning. X-rays following Maeda’s immediate exit revealed no fractures -- and the Twins have seemingly avoided the worst.

“We were fearful, to be honest, watching him on the ground out there,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “As he got up and the initial pain went away, he was able to stand and move around, so that was positive. … We’re not going to make any judgments at the moment. Lucky to avoid a major injury.”

Maeda had no time to get out of the way of a 111.6 mph line drive hit up the middle by Duran, the hardest-hit batted ball of his career. The comebacker struck Maeda flush in the left ankle, but he was still able to chase after the carom and make a strong throw to first base to end the inning before dropping to the ground in pain.

"I saw the ball drop right in front of me, and my first instinct was to grab the ball, throw the ball, get the out,” Maeda said through interpreter Dai Sekizaki. “You saw me collapse after making that play, so there was excruciating pain there.”

Following an examination by Baldelli and the Twins’ medical staff, Maeda walked off the field under his own power. Maeda had allowed a leadoff solo homer to Alex Verdugo, and Emilio Pagán entered the game in the third following a short warm-up with the Twins in a tough place, having used long reliever Brent Headrick for three innings in Wednesday’s blowout victory.

Maeda expects some swelling in the ankle, but he was walking around without any protective wrapping around the joint, and the Twins will continue to evaluate how he feels and is moving in the coming days.

“There's no bone damage, so that's good news,” Maeda said. “I don't expect to be out for a very long time.”

The Twins have more than enough rotation depth in the event of any absence for Maeda, with Bailey Ober, Louie Varland and Simeon Woods Richardson all available in Triple-A St. Paul.

It’s likely that Ober would be first up to assume a rotation spot after he was pushed off the 26-man roster in Spring Training by a roster crunch, and the Twins were already planning to insert an extra starter for their upcoming 10-game homestand. They have announced starters for Friday and Saturday, but not for Sunday’s series finale -- and Ober could pitch on semi-regular rest.

It remains to be seen whether the Twins will have to give Maeda time on the IL, which might open the door for a start or two from Varland in addition to Ober, with the Twins intent on giving their starters an extra day of rest in the coming stretch.

“We need to keep our guys going for a full year, and we have good guys that we can call up and pitch,” Baldelli said. “If we can help our guys in a 13-day stretch not have to go five [days], five, five, just keep going, we’ll do it.”

Any extended injury would have been particularly tough for Maeda, as he was making his third start in his return from a September 2021 Tommy John surgery that kept him out of competitive action for roughly 19 months before his return this year as a 35-year-old impending free agent.

Maeda had allowed five runs in 11 innings (a 4.09 ERA) across two starts with 12 strikeouts and no walks but had skipped his last turn in the rotation due to lingering soreness and fatigue in his pitching arm following his ramp-up from the Tommy John surgery.

Fortunately, he didn’t add a freak accident to that -- and the Twins will see what the coming days hold for the veteran.

“The decision-making on Kenta will be a logical, medical decision based on how he’s doing,” Baldelli said. “We don’t know those answers today, so we’re going to have to wait to find that out.”