Recovering Twins welcome Kenta Maeda back, seek healthier season

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — When Kenta Maeda first takes the mound for Minnesota in the 2023 season, his wait between appearances will have passed 19 months.

The Twins are more than eager to return the right-hander to their rotation, part of a welcome-back theme surrounding this team entering spring training after an injury-wrecked 2022.

“The time flew by relatively quickly,” Maeda said recently through a translator, reflecting on his rehabilitation from Tommy John elbow surgery. “But you never know. The first pitch that I throw on the big league mound, I might get so nervous I might drill someone. So watch out.”

Maeda flashed his dry sense of humor as he spoke in Japanese to reporters at the team’s annual fan festival at Target Field on Jan. 28. He declared his arm “100% ready” for camp, which formally begins for Twins pitchers and catchers in Fort Myers, Florida.

Maeda last pitched on Aug. 21, 2021. He had the ligament replacement procedure 11 days later. He could’ve been back in game action last September, but once the Twins faded down the stretch they decided to be cautious and keep him sidelined until 2023.

The AL Cy Young award runner-up in 2020, Maeda slumped to a 4.66 ERA in 21 starts in 2021 before the injury became too much. Last year, there was no opponent batting average or strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate, only an opportunity to reflect on his strategy while building up his overall body strength to be ready to go without limitation this season.

“There was so much discomfort prior to the surgery. Obviously, right after surgery there are limitations to movement, but now everything is free, whether that’s throwing a baseball or just doing daily stuff,” Maeda said. “Everything feels free.”

Fellow starting pitcher Chris Paddack, who had just arrived in Minnesota in a trade with San Diego, joined Maeda on the Tommy John recovery track after only five starts. Paddack won’t be back until midseason, much like top position player prospect Royce Lewis in his comeback from another repair of a torn ACL.

The major injuries are largely unpreventable. The smaller-scale issues are what dogged the Twins in 2022, enough of a concern that they changed head athletic trainers and hired Nick Paparesta away from Oakland. Paparesta traveled to meet in person with several players this winter.

“It’s easy to say that when a guy has a particular issue that the return plan should be prescribed the same way for everybody with the same issue,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “Well, some guys have different tolerances. Some guys are able to play through certain things. So Nick getting to know the players, that’s going to be important.”

Alex Kirilloff will have the most-watched wrist in camp.

The 2016 first-round draft pick’s ascendance to the heart of the batting order has been severely hampered by his health. Each of his first two major league seasons have been halted by surgery on the wrist, a vital joint for any hitter.

After a series of setbacks, Kirilloff opted last August for a shortening procedure that involved an intentional breaking and then shaving of the ulna bone to decrease the friction around it. The 25-year-old, who could wind up as either the regular left fielder or first baseman, said at TwinsFest he’s aiming for a mostly normal spring training with minimal restriction.

“I’m kind of just taking it day by day. But it does feel good, and I’m very optimistic,” Kirilloff said. “They cut my bone so there’s definitely some aches and stuff to go along with that, but from a pain standpoint it feels good.”

Second baseman Jorge Polanco‘s ailing knee limited one of the team’s true iron men to just 104 games last season after he appeared in 94% of the games over the previous three years.

“Sometimes we play hurt, with a little bit of pain or something. But that kind of injury was something I couldn’t play through,” Polanco said, later adding: “I have been working on it almost every day. I’m ready to go.”

Nimmo’s 2-run double sends Scherzer, Mets past Marlins 5-3

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI – Brandon Nimmo broke a seventh-inning tie with a two-run double, sending Max Scherzer and the New York Mets past the Miami Marlins 5-3 on Thursday.

Scherzer (1-0) coughed up a three-run lead but threw six solid innings in a matchup with NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara as the Mets improved to 41-21 on opening day – the best record in baseball.

Garrett Cooper tied it 3-all in the sixth with a two-run homer off Scherzer. Jacob Stallings led off the inning with a single and scored on Luis Arraez‘s double.

“Ran into a little trouble there in the sixth, a couple extra hits and a homer really kind of puts a sour taste in your mouth finishing the day,” Scherzer said.

Nimmo had three RBIs from the leadoff spot after re-signing with the Mets in the offseason for $162 million over eight years. He ripped a low slider from reliever Tanner Scott (0-1) into center field to put New York ahead 5-3 in the seventh, propelling the Mets to their 41st win in the past 53 openers.

“The slider stayed over home plate,” Nimmo said. “I kind of dug it out a little bit and was able to get the barrel there. Just happy to see it fall and get past Jazz (Chisholm Jr.) and let the guys run.”

Nimmo also had a sacrifice fly that scored Daniel Vogelbach for a 1-0 lead.

Before the opener, the Mets placed Justin Verlander on the injured list with a strained upper back muscle, sidelining the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner before his first appearance with the team.

Miami fell to 12-19 on opening day as rookie manager Skip Schumaker began his Marlins tenure with a loss.

Arraez was 2 for 4 and had a leadoff single in his first Marlins at-bat after Minnesota traded him to Miami in the offseason. The addition of last year’s AL batting champion was meant to be a huge lift for Miami’s offense, which was among the worst in the majors last season.

Scherzer permitted four hits and struck out six. The three-time Cy Young Award winner walked two in his first opening-day start with the Mets.

Drew Smith and newcomers Brooks Raley and David Robertson combined to strike out six over three shutout innings of one-hit relief.

Robertson, filling in as closer after Edwin Diaz suffered a season-ending injury in the World Baseball Classic, got three outs for the save.

Alcantara was lifted after giving up two walks and two singles that led to two runs in the sixth. He finished with an uncharacteristic four walks and struck out two.

“First game. I know I have more opportunities to not walk anybody,” Alcantara said. “I just have to keep working hard.”

The Mets made it 2-0 in the sixth when Lindor’s sacrifice fly drove in Nimmo. Big league batting champ Jeff McNeil added an RBI single, despite being hit with a pitch clock violation when Pete Alonso, who drew a walk in the previous plate appearance, was late getting back to first base on a foul ball.


Chisholm made his debut in center field after moving from second base when the Marlins added Arraez. Chisholm committed a costly throwing error in the sixth that allowed Starling Marte to advance from first to second. Marte eventually scored.


Miami’s 1997 World Series MVP, Liván Hernández, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Jeff Conine before the game.


Mets: Verlander will continue throwing at moderate intensity and will undergo more scans in a week. … Díaz (torn right patellar tendon) was placed on the 60-day IL. … RHP Bryce Montes de Oca (Tommy John surgery) and four others were put on the 15-day injured list, retroactive to March 27: RHP Sam Coonrod (right lat strain), RHP Stephen Ridings (right lat strain), LHP José Quintana (left rib fracture) and RHP Elieser Hernandez (right shoulder strain).

Marlins: LHP Steven Okert (left adductor strain), RHP Tommy Nance (right shoulder strain) and RHP Nic Enright (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) were all placed on the 15-day IL. … INF Yuli Gurriel was selected from Triple-A Jacksonville. … RHP Max Meyer was put on the 60-day IL (Tommy John surgery).


The series continues Friday with New York LHP David Peterson facing LHP Jesus Luzardo.