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MLB: Japan will be watching as Twins’ Kenta Maeda faces Angels’ Shohei Ohtani

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The Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins open up a four-game series on Thursday night in Minneapolis in a matchup of struggling teams that occupy fourth place in their divisions.

Not exactly big news … unless you live in Japan.

That’s because the series opener features Minnesota right-hander Kenta Maeda (4-3, 4.71 ERA) going against his former Team Japan teammate, slugger/pitcher Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, in a contest that is drawing a large contingent of Japanese media to Minnesota.

Ohtani leads the majors in homers (34) and slugging percentage (.679). He also is 4-1 with a 3.21 ERA in 14 starts on the mound, but it is uncertain if he will pitch in the Twins series.

Ohtani has appeared at Target Field just once previously. In 2019, he had six hits, including a 429-foot home run off Jose Berrios, in 13 at-bats.

“He’s a spectacle,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He brings a dimension and does things on a baseball field you only dream about. It’s almost fictional.”

Maeda said, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “He was prized mostly for his pitching, but his hitting ability has just skyrocketed since he’s gotten here. I’m really looking forward to facing him. If I give up a hit, it’s going to be a really big deal in Japan. I’ll have to be sure to get him out this time.”

Maeda knows from experience. Ohtani hit a 416-foot home run into the right center field bleachers at Angel Stadium the last time the two met on June 11, 2019, when Maeda was pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The first-inning homer helped propel the Angels to a 5-3 victory.

“If (I give) up a hit to Shohei in the U.S., it’ll be just be like, ‘Hey, Shohei Ohtani, it’s just another hit,'” Maeda said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “But in Japan, it’s going to be, ‘Kenta Maeda gave up a hit to Shohei Ohtani.’ I’m not a big fan of that being talked about over there in a such a way.”

Maeda, the runner-up for the 2020 American League Cy Young Award, has bounced back from a groin injury and right arm soreness in late May and early June to register a 1.69 ERA over his past three starts. During that span, he allowed just three runs and seven hits over 16 innings while striking out 25.

Los Angeles will start left-hander Andrew Heaney (5-7, 5.56 ERA), who is 0-0 with a 3.18 ERA in two career starts against the Twins. He took a no-decision against Minnesota on April 16 after allowing two runs in 5 1/3 innings.

The contest kicks off a seven-game homestand for the Twins, who own a four-game home winning streak after sweeping a four-game series with the Detroit Tigers just prior to the All-Star break.

The Twins finished a disappointing 2-5 road trip with a 7-2 victory over the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. Minnesota second baseman Jorge Polanco continued his hot hitting, going 3-for-4 with a three-run homer and three runs. He has four homers and 14 RBIs in his past eight games.

The Angels, who had Wednesday off, were swept in two games at Oakland to start their six-game road trip, getting outscored 10-1 in the process. Ohtani allowed three hits and struck out eight while pitching six shutout innings Monday in Los Angeles’ 4-1 loss to the A’s.

–Field Level Media

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