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Nowacki: Maeda masterful for Twins but Brewers come back

He took a no-hitter into the ninth, and the Twins closer Taylor Rogers blew the save.

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Minnesota Twins pitcher Kenta Maeda (18) delivers a pitch during the third inning Tuesday, Aug. 18, against the Milwaukee Brewers at Target Field. Marilyn Indahl / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — In February the Los Angeles Dodgers traded pitcher Kenta Maeda, catcher Jaír Camargo and “cash considerations” to the Minnesota Twins for flamethrowing prospect Brusdar Graterol, along with outfielder Luke Raley and the 67th pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.

By flamethrower, I mean flamethrower. Think Godzilla after he accidentally swallowed a Tabasco factory.

Of course, some fans weren’t happy the Twinks unloaded Graterol, the 21-year-old Venezuelan with a fastball that reportedly clocked 103.8 mph in the minors. In terms of pitching, that’s like turning the dial to 11.

While the Dodgers could get the better end of it in the long term, the 2020 Minnesota Twins are built to win, and Maeda, the 32-year-old right-hander, is helping them do just that, as evidenced by his masterful performance against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night at Target Field before me and a COVID-friendly crowd of about 200 other media, game personnel and some folks who stuck around to clean the place afterward.

The Twins eventually won the game 4-3 in the 12th inning, meaning Maeda didn’t get credit for his superb performance.

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It’s a shame more people weren’t able to witness the maestro in person, but hey, at least we’ve got TV.

Maeda was pulled after his no-hit bid was spoiled when third baseman Eric Sogard led off the top of the ninth inning with a blooper that Twins second baseman Jorge Polanco couldn’t quite get to.

Twins closer Taylor Rogers came and looked more like 1980s closer Ron Davis than his normal reliable self in blowing a 3-0 lead (for you younger Twins fans who don’t know Ron Davis, do some research to understand what we went through in the 80s. Or, just jump out of a 12-story building). In fairness to Mr. Rogers, one of those runs was unearned when the Twins failed to complete a double play, making yet another MLB game drag on into the night.

Maeda came in throwing just over 69 percent of his first pitches for strikes, among the best in baseball. He might be over 70 now. Before the game, Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson talked about that.

“We wanted him to attack from the get-go,” Johnson said. “The most success he had with the Dodgers was when he did that. It was a common theme, and we tried to piggyback on that. Let’s just get ahead and see where it goes, and he’s really good at that.”

Boy, is he ever.

Maeda’s best season in MLB was his first season, in 2016, when he went 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA, but he has certainly been pretty good since then. He came into the year with a 47-35 record, 3.87 ERA and 641 strikeouts in just 589 innings. Maeda mixes his pitches well and has a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s.

After Maeda gave up a walk with one out in the eighth inning, only his second miscue of the game, Twins pitching coach Wes Thompson went out to the mound with an interpreter to talk it over.

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“Cut him,” one scribe muttered from the COVID-friendly press box.

Maeda got out of the inning, no sweat. The next inning was nothing but a shame, the type of thing that makes old-schoolers like Nolan Ryan cringe, pulling a guy after what basically amounted to a fluke hit (though we see them all the time). While it wasn’t a crisp hit, that was enough to make Maeda toast after just 115 pitches, including 78 he threw for strikes. Kids, pull out the calculator and do the math on that one, that’s 78 divided by 115 and voila, 67.8 percent for strikes. Masterful.

At one point, Maeda struck out eight straight Brewers, setting a Twins record held by Francisco Liriano in 2010 and Jim Merritt in 1966.

With a paltry 2.27 ERA while pitching in the more hitter-friendly American League, Maeda appears headed to his best season.

While Maeda will never reach 103 mph on the gun, he is exactly what the Twins need right now, another quality starter to complement the Bomba Squad.

Related Topics: BASEBALLCORONAVIRUS
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