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Masterful Maeda backed by 2 Sanó homers

@dohyoungpark
August 1, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kenta Maeda is here. Miguel Sanó is back. Beware, American League Central: Watch out for the Twins’ powerful combination of old and new. Maeda, the newcomer, announced his arrival to the Twins-Indians rivalry by twisting hitters into knots with his slider and changeup, as he held the Indians

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kenta Maeda is here. Miguel Sanó is back. Beware, American League Central: Watch out for the Twins’ powerful combination of old and new.

Maeda, the newcomer, announced his arrival to the Twins-Indians rivalry by twisting hitters into knots with his slider and changeup, as he held the Indians to just one infield hit over six shutout innings. Cleveland needs no introduction to Sanó, who snapped into form with a pair of homers to erupt out of his season-opening slump. Together, they carried Minnesota to a 3-0 win at Target Field on Saturday night, securing at least a split of the four-game series against the Tribe.

Box score

“That's exactly why we acquired [Maeda], is because you know he has two plus offspeed pitches and he wanted to be a starter,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “It worked out great. We were looking for a starter. He came over, and I think during Spring Training we could see the potential of him. Now that we've kind of gotten into the season, we understand what makes him so good.”

Sanó and the Twins’ offense were the primary storyline entering 2020 -- for good reason -- but don’t sleep on this pitching staff, newly fortified with Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey. Their pitchers have allowed only three runs over the past 37 innings and eight runs across the past six games. Maeda has already made a big first impression with dominant outings against both the White Sox and Indians, the two teams expected to be Minnesota’s primary competition in the division.

The Indians had never seen Maeda, and it was apparent. A day after Cleveland’s offense was held to one run on five hits, Maeda took a no-hitter into the fifth inning by pounding the bottom of the zone with a mix of his offspeed pitches, generating seven whiffs apiece with his slider and changeup as he struck out six and walked one in his 83-pitch outing.

"The hits I gave up in Chicago, those weren't the shapes I would like,” Maeda said of his slider adjustment. “So by altering the shape and the movement of the slider, it worked out very well tonight."

“We went out to get his slider,” Garver said. “We acquired him because of his slider, and there you have it right there. That's him producing for us in games.”

Maeda and the Twins might have been navigating a historic outing had it not been for Bradley Zimmer, who chopped a weak grounder to second base and barely beat Luis Arraez’s throw to first base, which stood upon a very close replay review. No matter: Maeda efficiently set down the next five hitters to complete his outing having retired 16 of his final 17.

“Knowing that Kenta’s going to see these guys a lot and watching him go out there, his initial visual was very, very impressive,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.

Notes: Littell (hamstring) to IL; Alcala recalled

Considering Maeda’s complete dominance, the Twins barely needed any offense to cruise to another victory. The offense they found couldn’t have been any more encouraging.

Sanó began his season mired in a deep slump -- 1-for-17 with eight strikeouts -- as both he and Baldelli openly acknowledged that the slugger was still in search of his timing at the plate following an extended absence from Summer Camp due to COVID-19.

That search ended in a hurry.

After talking to hitting coach Rudy Hernandez and designated hitting mentor extraordinare Nelson Cruz, Sanó went back to watch his video from his successful runs in 2017 and ‘19. He found a simple solution: raising his hands a bit in his batting stance, closer to his chin. In batting practice, he focused on being more fluid with his hands and hitting line drives and ground balls. It paid off.

“Sometimes you’re OK physically,” Sanó said. “It’s just the mental part of the game, when you go out there and you feel ready for something and you’re really not. Like I said before, I’ve taken the past few days, since I had a slow start to the season, to look at those videos to look at my approach and tweak things ... and tonight, you saw the result.”

Sanó was all over a hanging fastball from Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco in the third inning, and he deposited it 427 feet from home plate into the left-center-field bullpens to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. His next swing, two innings later, drilled a low line drive into the left-field seats for a 365-foot blast. Sanó's two exit velocities were 110.6 mph and 110.5 mph, respectively, showcasing the elite batted-ball metrics that he and Minnesota knew would come with some patience.

“He hits the ball so, so hard,” Baldelli said. “Balls that, I said to [bench coach] Mike Bell, 'Good Major League hitters hit the ball just like that, and it ends up one-hopping the fence.’ It's a really hard-hit line drive, and it one-hops the fence. When Miguel hits a ball like that, it knocks chairs down in the bleachers, and he can do things like that.’”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.