New Twins pitcher Mahle starts tonight, ready to make lasting impression

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Target Field was basically empty but for a coach, a catcher and some grounds crew members, when Tyler Mahle arrived Wednesday evening to get acquainted with his new home. The righthander suited up, walked to the bullpen and gave his pitching arm a 20-minute workout.

"I was kind of nervous. As soon as I landed, I kind of felt like this was where I needed to be," said Mahle, acquired from Cincinnati for three of the Twins' top 20 prospects on Tuesday. "I texted my wife, 'I think you're going to like it here.' We're excited."

The Twins are too, and they'll get a firsthand look at their new pitching weapon on Friday. Mahle, who last pitched Saturday against the Orioles, will start Friday night's game with Toronto, facing traded-away former Twin Jose Berrios.

Tyler Mahle statistics

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli called his Reds counterpart, David Bell, for a scouting report on his new starter.

"[Bell] said 'You can allow him to keep pitching. He will get stronger as the game goes on,' which is not something you see very often at the highest level of baseball. That's a rarity," Baldelli said. "But he's a guy that, as the game goes on, does get outs in different fashions. The stuff changes, and a lot of time, it improves. That's an exciting thing to hear."

Rarity, indeed — particularly the "keep pitching" part. Mahle has thrown at least 100 pitches 10 times in his last 13 starts, and only once in that three-month stretch threw fewer than 97. Baldelli's Twins? They've coaxed 100 pitches from a starter just six times in 2022, and not at all since June 26.

"I'm going to try to have the best start I can. If that turns into a complete game" — something no Twin has accomplished since Berrios, by coincidence, did it June 7, 2018 — "that's great," Mahle said. "If it turns into six innings and gives us a chance to win, that's what I'm striving to do."

Mahle said he was tracking the trade rumors and had resigned himself to switching teams, yet it still came as a shock when it happened. But he loves Target Field, he said, and especially being reunited with Sonny Gray, his Cincinnati teammate for three years.

"When he walked in, I couldn't stop smiling. It was weird to see him in front of me because, I don't know, he has such a presence," Mahle said. Gray has a small zen garden in the empty locker next to his, too, which didn't surprise his old friend. "When I got here, I saw that and I knew it had Sonny G written all over it."

Kepler's return 'soon'

The swelling in his broken right little toe is gone and the pain has receded. Max Kepler took fly balls in the outfield on Wednesday, ran the bases Thursday, and took batting practice both days.

Is it time for Kepler, who hasn't played since he was hit on the foot by a Rony Garcia pitch on July 24, to return to the lineup?

"It's soon. It's soon. As we know, this is an injury that's basically you playing to your own [pain] tolerance," Baldelli said. "Could he be back this weekend? It's possible."

It didn't seem so a week ago, which surprised the Twins' right fielder. "I've never broken anything before, so it was a shock," Kepler said. "The pain I was dealing with the first was not very bearable for me personally. But it's not going to heal until the season's over, so I'm going to have to deal with it and play through it."

Etc.Kyle Garlick was the latest outfielder to go on the injured list, officially sidelined Thursday with soreness in his ribs that Baldelli attributed to irregularities in the cartilage. "He has a cartilage fracture — I've never heard of that in my entire life," Baldelli said of the injury Garlick suffered by running into the fence in San Diego last Friday while trying to save a home run. "He tried to play through it, to see if that was possible, but he was in a lot of pain and couldn't play."Gilberto Celestino was activated from the paternity list on Thursday, after the birth earlier this week of his first child, a son. Celestino and his wife Lia named the child Gilberto, the fourth generation in his family to carry the name.Baldelli said new catcher Sandy Leon is in the process of learning the team's pitchers, so it's too early to know how he and Gary Sanchez will divide the workload behind the plate. But for now, "Gary might catch a little bit more than Sandy," the manager said.Jorge Alcala's pitching elbow has been bothering him since spring training, with repeated recurrences. This week, he and the Twins finally gave up on this season, and began aiming for his return in 2023. Alcala, who appeared in two games during the season's first week for a total of 2 1/3 innings, underwent arthroscopic debridement surgery on his right elbow Wednesday, a procedure that will require 4-6 months of recovery. He is expected to be ready for spring training, the Twins announced.