Kenta Maeda pitched nearly four strong innings on Thursday, allowing only one hit — unfortunately, a game-winning solo home run — and striking out five. Afterward, he declared himself ready for … well, that part still isn't clear.
"I haven't settled on anything," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of Maeda's role in the postseason. "There are no roles settled. We have a long way to go before we figure out those type of things."
Time grows short, of course. Baldelli has said Pablo López and Sonny Gray will start the first two games of next week's best-of-three wild-card series, but he's been decidedly noncommittal about who would be on the mound for a deciding Game 3. Joe Ryan, who starts for the Twins on Friday in Denver, is a logical choice — but then again, so is Maeda.
The veteran righthander posted a 2.70 ERA in September, with six of the eight runs he allowed scoring on home runs. If he keeps the ball in the park, in other words, he's been especially effective. Ryan has a 4.31 ERA this month, with a night in Colorado still ahead.
On the other hand, Ryan has made only eight relief appearances in his professional career, all of them in the minors, and all but one of them more than four years ago. Maeda, as he demonstrated Thursday, coincidentally the fourth anniversary of his most recent bullpen outing, is familiar and successful in a relief role. He pitched out of the bullpen in 21 postseason games for the Dodgers from 2017-19, putting up a 1.63 ERA as a reliever and allowing only one home run while striking out 27 in 22 total innings.
So the Twins are understandably hesitant to make any decisions before they have to.
"We put him in a spot [Thursday] where he does come out of the pen, in case we ask him to do it in the playoffs. It also keeps him in a spot where he's still built up enough" to start, Baldelli said of Maeda, who threw 62 pitches against the A's. "It allows us to do whatever we want with him."
That could be particularly important if the Twins advance beyond the first round of the playoffs, when series become best-of-five and then best-of-seven.
"I've pitched a decent amount in the relief role, especially in the playoffs," Maeda said. "It's been a while, but with the experience I have, I'll be prepared just as anyone would be."
Has he received any hints about when he'll pitch next?
"I haven't been told," Maeda shrugged. "Time will tell."
No mile-high experience
Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis worked out with live pitching again Thursday in St. Paul, and all three will remain in Minnesota over the weekend while the Twins close out the season in Denver.
The Twins had planned to activate Correa from the injured list to get him a few at-bats against the Rockies but changed their mind.
"We're going to leave him here, along with the rest of the group," Baldelli said. "We'll have [simulated] games going on here. We'll have staff members here. Guys will get their work in. It has nothing to do with any [health] assessment. He's doing well."
For those who go, playing in Denver's mile-high altitude will be an odd way to prepare for the playoffs.
"It's a big difference, playing there. Recovery is tough," said Twins broadcaster Justin Morneau, who played two seasons with the Rockies nearly a decade ago. "You hit a triple, you're standing at third base trying to find air. But it's a bigger deal for pitchers.
Emilio Pagán has experience pitching in Coors Field, and he agrees.
"I'm definitely going to say something before we go to the guys who haven't been there," Pagán said. "Your body gets sore quick at elevation. The ball moves different. Breaking balls still move, but there's not as much depth to them. So for the guys who haven't been there, I want to say, 'Stay alert.' It can mess with you."
• Thursday's home finale was attended by 19,466, the Twins announced, bringing the season's total attendance at Target Field to 1,974,124, an average of 24,372. That's an increase of 9.6% over 2022, but still ranks ninth among the Twins' 12 non-COVID-affected seasons in their downtown ballpark. Notably, the Twins sold out their home opener in April, but did not record another sellout all season.
• Not that there was any doubt, but Baldelli confirmed Thursday that he intends to return for a sixth season as Twins manager next year. "I have not had one thought about next year. But I hope to be back. I plan on being back," said Baldelli, 373-332 in five seasons in Minnesota. "I'll go into the offseason with that mentality. But the last thing I'm worried about right now is next year."