When Kenta Maeda had Tommy John surgery in September, it seemed likely to count him out of the team's starting rotation for the entire 2022 season. Now that might not be the case as he told Japanese reporters that he hopes to be back on the mound in September. According to the article, Maeda is on pace to start playing catch in mid-February. Hopefully, he will be playing catch as part of spring training, but the MLB lockout would need to be over for spring training to start on time.
Another reason for optimism with Maeda's recovery is an adjustment made to his Tommy John surgery. Maeda had a brace added to the impacted elbow to speed up his recovery time. This newer development can cut the recovery time from the standard 12-16 months to 9-12 months. Nine months after his surgery puts him on the mound in June, while 12 months would be September. At the time of the surgery, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said he is "hopeful for sure" that the right-hander will see the mound next year.
It will be intriguing to see how the Twins treat Maeda's recovery. By September, the team will know if they are in or out of the playoff race. Maeda has a chance to provide a late-season boost for a contending team. If Minnesota is out of the race, Maeda may still want to get back into a big-league game to prove he is healthy.
Minnesota's initial acquisition of Maeda looked like a solid move by the front office, especially for a team searching for starting pitching. Brusdar Graterol looked like he would be a reliever, and that's how the Dodgers have used him. There's no question that Maeda greatly impacted the Twins rotation during the pandemic shortened 2020 campaign.
In 11 starts, he dominated by posting a 2.70 ERA with an MLB-best 0.75 WHIP. He compiled an 80-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio and had a 160 ERA+. He set career-best marks in multiple statistical categories, including ground-ball rate (49.0%), walk percentage (4.0%), strikeout percentage (32.3%), swinging-strike rate (17.2%), and opponents' chase rate (40.8%). At the season's end, he finished second to Cleveland's Shane Bieber in the AL Cy Young voting.
Last season, Maeda experienced regression before being shut down with his elbow injury. In 21 starts (106 1/3 innings), he posted a 4.66 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP and a 113-to-32 strikeout to walk ratio. Multiple reasons may factor into Maeda's struggles. His elbow may have been bothering him before he went on the IL, and MLB's crackdown on sticky substances may have impacted his spin rate.
Dylan Bundy, Bailey Ober, and Joe Ryan are the three pitchers penciled into next year's starting rotation. Maeda would undoubtedly provide a second-half boost if his rehab stays on track. Organizationally, many of Minnesota's top prospects are pitchers close to the big-league level. Late in the season can be a time for younger pitchers to prove they belong. Will Minnesota want to give Maeda starts over some of their top prospects? That is a question to be answered later this year.
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