Twins' Maeda finds his power, sinks Rangers

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Phil Miller, Star Tribune
·3 min read
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The Twins' search for 2020 Kenta Maeda came to the right place on Monday: 60 feet, 6 inches from Texas Rangers hitters.

That's where he found a seemingly lost weapon called the strikeout.

Maeda, whose strikeout rate fell to a career-low in April, rediscovered his third-strike talent against the whiffingest team in baseball, and rode those swings-and-misses to his first win in nearly a month, 6-5 over Texas at chilly Target Field.

After averaging only four strikeouts per start in the season's first month, the Twins' Opening Day starter doubled that output in his first meeting with the Rangers in three seasons. Twice the Rangers put runners on third base with two outs, and both times he snuffed any potential rally with a smart ploy: Keep the ball low until there were two strikes, then blow a high fastball past the hitter to end the inning, a strategy that claimed Charlie Culbertson in the second inning, and MLB strikeout leader Joey Gallo in the third.

Sure, the Rangers, whose 305 whiffs entering the game led the major leagues, arrived at the perfect time for Maeda. Regardless, his performance had to come as a relief to the Twins. Maeda's eight strikeouts represented a return to the pattern he established in 2020, when the Cy Young runner-up collected at least seven strikeouts in seven of his 11 starts — a level he had yet to hit in 2021.

The Twins' offense did the rest, though another shaky inning from the bullpen made it more necessary than it appeared for much of the game.

But they also got plenty of help from the Rangers' awful outfield defense. For one thing, a throw by left fielder David Dahl in the third inning was so high, catcher Jose Trevino couldn't catch it and still take Luis Arraez with it, though it took replay to determine that. The bad part for the Twins: The collision left Arraez feeling concussion symptoms, and he left the game a couple of innings later.

Alex Kirilloff doubled twice and scored both times, each courtesy of some awful outfielding by the visitors. In the second inning, Kirilloff scored the game's first run when Gallo caught a fly ball in deep right field, then sailed a throw, after Kirilloff tagged up, over Culberson's head at third base. The ball rolled harmlessly along the front of the dugout as Kirilloff hustled home.

Four innings later, Kirilloff greeted Rangers reliever Kolby Allard with a two-out double to left field, and he jogged home when center fielder Adolis Garcia caught up to Jorge Polanco's warning-track fly ball but allowed it to bounce off the heel of his glove, an embarrassing misplay that was credited to Polanco as a triple.

Max Kepler followed with a single to give the Twins a five-run lead that became unexpectedly tenuous when newly arrived lefthander Brandon Waddell took the mound in the eighth. A two-run home run by Garcia put a dent in the Twins' lead, and a double by Isiah Kiner-Falefa off Tyler Duffey set up another run that scored on Culberson's ground out, bringing the tying run to the plate.

But Duffey retired catcher Jose Trevino on a roller, the Twins added an insurance run on another poorly played hit — Dahl failed to cut off Polanco's line-drive double, allowing Kirilloff to score from first — and Taylor Rogers made it clear how important that run was by allowing a ninth-inning, two-run home run to Gallo.