Notes: Maeda's new curve; 'Rain' in forecast

March 4th, 2021

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- didn't get much help from his defense, but he still looked the part of the American League Cy Young Award runner-up from last season, propped up by a strong showing from his offspeed pitches -- both old and new.

It was no surprise that Maeda leaned heavily on his slider and changeup throughout his scoreless two-inning, 33-pitch start in the Twins' 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay at Hammond Stadium, but went to a slightly new look when he mixed in three curveballs against left-handed-hitting Vidal Bruján and Josh Lowe in the second inning.

Maeda leaned heavily on his slider and changeup last season, combining to throw the offerings 68 percent of the time, and he said at the start of camp that he hoped to introduce one more pitch -- the curveball, sinker or cutter -- to complement his existing pitches. The curveball was most prevalent among those pitches in his first spring outing against opposing hitters.

"I don't think the curveball's going to be my payoff pitch with two strikes, but concentrating on the command, I'd like it to be a pitch that I can control to get strikes consistently," Maeda said.

The right-hander threw the curveball 34 times last season, but it only represented 3.4 percent of his total pitches. He relied on it more heavily at the start of his Major League career, but it has steadily fallen out of usage in favor of the slider and changeup over the last several seasons.

He has changed the grip on the curve a bit since then, he said, and hopes that he can get enough action on the pitch to draw swings and misses even when he throws it in the strike zone.

Donaldson likely to debut Sunday
and his newly blonde hair are expected to take the field for the first time on Sunday, manager Rocco Baldelli said, when the Twins face Tampa Bay at Hammond Stadium. Donaldson hasn't appeared in any Grapefruit League contests so far, but he has been doing full days of work at the facility and getting extra at-bats and some live batting practice sessions on the back fields.

Earlier this offseason, the Twins explained that they would likely ease Donaldson into action in both Spring Training and early in the regular season with an eye on maintaining his health.

"Josh needed probably just a couple of extra days maybe beyond what he would normally have," Baldelli said. "Physically, though, he’s in as good a shape as I’ve seen him. When he gets out there, I would expect him to have a regular progression just like everybody else, probably playing roughly every other day for a period of time."

Thielbar dealing with back strain
Left-handed reliever could be out "a matter of days or potentially weeks" as he recovers from a back strain, Baldelli said Thursday. According to the Twins' skipper, Thielbar sustained the injury early in camp, and there's no more specific timetable for his return to the field.

Thielbar emerged as a surprise contributor to the Twins' bullpen last season, when he originally arrived in camp on a Minor League deal but went on to post a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings across 17 appearances.

"Asking guys to have that patience is not always easy because athletes, competitive people, guys want to be out on the field," Baldelli said. "They want to be playing. I understand that completely, but we’re not going to let him rush himself."

Hey, he's not on the roster
With their roster lacking depth due to the 75-man cap on Spring Training participation, the Twins had to get creative on Thursday when they wanted to get Alex Kirilloff off his feet in the seventh inning.

Their solution? They threw a spare No. 85 jersey on advance scout Frankie Padulo and sent him out to second base as a pinch-runner for the final plate appearance of the game. Padulo was an infielder at Cornell University and hit .293 as a senior in 2017.

"Pulling all out the stops, and Frankie is in maybe the best shape here," Baldelli said.

Around the horn
• Hansel Robles touched 96 mph with his fastball while he allowed three runs to the Rays -- only two of which were earned -- in the third inning. His average fastball velocity was down from 97.2 mph in 2019 to 95.4 mph in '20, but he said that he hoped to regain some of that this season.

• Kirilloff, the club's No. 2 prospect and No. 26 in baseball per MLB Pipeline, collected his first hits of the spring with a ringing double off the right-center-field wall in the second inning against right-hander Luis Patiño and a seventh-inning single against Louis Head. He'd been 0-for-5 to start Spring Training as he competes for the open left-field job.

• Jorge Polanco had an up-and-down day at second base, with a throwing error charged to him in the first inning and another errant throw on a potential double play in the third that went wide of Miguel Sanó at first and allowed a run to score. He did find some redemption one inning later, when he made a sliding stop on a grounder to his left and threw from the seat of his pants to retire Randy Arozarena.

Up next
Most of Matt Shoemaker's work was done on the back fields before the start of Spring Training games, and the Twins will get their first in-game look at the 34-year-old's hopeful bounceback from an injury-riddled three seasons when he toes the rubber in a road matchup against the Braves at 12:05 p.m. CT on Friday at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla.