When Kenta Maeda went in for surgery on Wednesday morning, the starting pitcher still wasn’t sure what procedure he’d be having.
While he was fully expecting it to be Tommy John surgery, Maeda and the Twins had to wait until Dr. Keith Meister cut into Maeda’s pitching elbow to fully assess the damage to his ulnar collateral ligament to find out.
Meister determined he needed Tommy John surgery, which involves taking a tendon from elsewhere in the body and using it to replace the damaged one, in this case the ulnar collateral ligament. As part of the surgery, Meister added an internal brace, which could potentially speed Maeda’s recovery, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, shortening it to nine to 12 months instead of the typical 12-16.
“I am hopeful,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said of Maeda returning next season. “Obviously (with) these things you have to see how the rehab goes. If everything goes according to plan, I’m hopeful that he’s pitching some point next year. But we won’t know that now for a number of months.”
Maeda will remain in the Dallas area, where the surgery was performed, for the next six to eight weeks or so, Falvey said, to begin the rehab process. Then, he will continue his rehab at a facility near his home during the offseason and is expected to eventually head to the Twins’ complex in Fort Myers, Fla.
No matter when Maeda returns, whether it’s late in the 2022 season or not until 2023, the Twins are looking at a prolonged period of time without their top starter, a tough situation for a team that will need to rebuild its rotation this offseason.
“We’re better with Kenta but I’ll tell you this: We’re even better with a healthy Kenta, and that’s what we need to focus on,” Baldelli said. “Any season, no matter how it’s laid out, you’re going to go through periods of time without some of your best guys out there.”
Maeda’s injury, Falvey said, was not acute but rather the result of years of wear and tear. When the starter first signed with the Dodgers ahead of the 2016 season, his physical revealed “irregularities,” in his elbow.
Still, Falvey said the Twins “had no concerns at that time” that Maeda would need Tommy John when they acquired him ahead of the 2020 season, noting that pitchers often strain their UCLs and come back and pitch through it.
Last year’s American League Cy Young runner-up, Maeda was healthy throughout last season and first started exhibiting discomfort near the end of April. The hope is that when Maeda returns, the version the Twins see is better than what they’ve seen in the past, Baldelli said.
After all, for the first time in his major league career, he’ll be pitching with a fully healthy elbow.
“This wasn’t just a simple acute injury that he was dealing with,” Baldelli said. “He’s been pitching with some of this stuff for a while now. This gives him an opportunity to be at full strength going forward.”
Michael Pineda (oblique) threw 50 pitches during live batting practice on Wednesday at Target Field. Catcher Mitch Garver (back) stood in. … The Twins called up Joe Ryan, who debuted on Wednesday, and activated Randy Dobnak (finger) from the injured list when rosters expanded to 28 players. Dobnak will start on Friday against Tampa Bay. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Twins transferred Maeda to the 60-day IL. … Reliever Edgar García cleared waivers and was assigned to St. Paul.