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.”

New bill to build Athletics stadium on Las Vegas Strip caps Nevada’s cost at $380 million

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

CARSON CITY, Nev. — A bill introduced in the Nevada Legislature would give the Oakland Athletics up to $380 million for a potential 30,000 seat, $1.5 billion retractable roof stadium on the Las Vegas Strip.

The bulk of the public funding would come from $180 million in transferable tax credits from the state and $120 million in county bonds, which can vary based on interest rate returns. Clark County also would contribute $25 million in credit toward infrastructure costs.

The A’s have been looking for a home to replace Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season. The team had sought to build a stadium in Fremont, San Jose and finally the Oakland waterfront, all ideas that never materialized.

The plan in the Nevada Legislature won’t directly raise taxes. It can move forward with a simply majority vote in the Senate and Assembly. Lawmakers have a little more than a week to consider the proposal before they adjourn June 5, though it could be voted on if a special session is called.

The Athletics have agreed to use land on the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, where the Tropicana Las Vegas casino resort sits. Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has said he is disappointed the team didn’t negotiate with Oakland as a “true partner.”

Las Vegas would be the fourth home for a franchise that started as the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-54. It would become the smallest TV market in Major League Baseball and the smallest market to be home to three major professional sports franchises.

The team and Las Vegas are hoping to draw from the nearly 40 million tourists who visit the city annually to help fill the stadium. The 30,000-seat capacity would make it the smallest MLB stadium.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said a vote on the Oakland Athletics’ prospective move to Las Vegas could take place when owners meet June 13-15 in New York.

The plan faces an uncertain path in the Nevada Legislature. Democratic leaders said financing bills, including for the A’s, may not go through if Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoes the five budget bills, which he has threatened to do as many of his priorities have stalled or faded in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Under the bill, the Clark County Board of Commissioners would create a homelessness prevention and assistance fund along the stadium’s area in coordination with MLB and the Nevada Resort Association. There, they would manage funds for services, including emergency rental and utility assistance, job training, rehabilitation and counseling services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The lease agreement with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority would be up for renewal after 30 years.

Nevada’s legislative leadership is reviewing the proposal, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager said in a statement.

“No commitment will be made until we have both evaluated the official proposal and received input from interested parties, including impacted community members,” Yeager said.