Less than 24 hours after scoring the winning run as a pinch runner, right-hander Kenta Maeda will take the mound as the Minnesota Twins look to beat the Detroit Tigers for the ninth straight time in Minneapolis.
Maeda (4-4, 4.63 ERA), who is 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA in seven career starts against Detroit, is 1-0 with a 2.81 ERA in three starts against the Tigers this season. He has allowed five runs on 12 hits over 16 innings while striking out 21.
Maeda raised a few eyebrows when he entered Monday night's series opener as a pinch runner for reliever Caleb Thielbar to start the bottom of the 10th as the designated runner at second base.
The Twins, who had just one position player left in the bench, backup catcher Ryan Jeffers, had lost the designated hitter after Gilberto Celestino pinch-ran for DH Brent Rooker in the ninth inning, then remained in the game to play center field in the 10th.
Thielbar came on in the No. 6 spot in the order after Willians Astudillo, pinch-hitting for center fielder Nick Gordon, struck out with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the ninth.
After Thielbar retired the side in order in the top of the 10th, Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli put Maeda in his spot as the designated runner to start the inning, even though he had the option of going one spot further back in the lineup and using catcher Mitch Garver.
"(The umpires) were very helpful to remind me that Mitch Garver could also run in that spot," Baldelli said. "To be honest, I feel like Kenta being a really good athlete and good runner -- no disrespect to Mitch, but I think Kenta is probably faster than him -- and we were going to put the guy out there who ran the best at that point."
It was the fourth time in his career that Maeda was used as a pinch runner. He easily scored the winning run from second when Max Kepler singled into the gap in right-center off hard-throwing Tigers closer Gregory Soto.
"See ball, hit ball," Kepler, who was 0-for-5 heading into the at-bat, replied when asked what his approach was against Soto, who hit 100 mph five times on the radar gun Monday. "Keep it simple, like I always do."
It was the seventh career walk-off hit for Kepler and his second this season.
"That was a big hit by Kep to really make it happen," Baldelli said. "Kep's not afraid to go up and get a big hit."
It was a bitter loss for Detroit, which had rallied from a 5-2 deficit to force extra innings on Robbie Grossman's two-run, pinch-hit homer in the ninth. Besides being the Tigers' eighth straight road loss, it also was their eighth consecutive loss at Target Field, where they are 1-13 since Aug. 24, 2019.
"It's a tough loss because we were in position to win and really did fight back," Detroit manager AJ Hinch said. "But we got into the pressure point of the 10th inning, and with their pitcher running, they end up getting a two-out hit.
"It's tough any time you lose in extra innings, but walk-offs suck."
Detroit will turn to left-hander Tyler Alexander (1-1, 4.24 ERA) on Tuesday to try to even the series. Alexander is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in five career appearances (including two starts) against Minnesota. Three of those outings, including one start, came this year, and he had no decisions and a 4.50 ERA in those games.
Alexander has no wins or losses and a 2.70 ERA in three career games (one start) at Target Field.
--Field Level Media