Kenta Maeda is not yet nervous about starting in the first game of the 2020 MLB playoffs, but says the butterflies will likely arrive sometime before his Minnesota Twins take the field at home on Tuesday.
The Twins take on the Houston Astros in a pandemic-shortened best-of-three Wild Card Series, and Maeda will pitch opposite Zack Greinke in the series opener at Target Field in Minneapolis.
"I'm not nervous now but when tomorrow comes I might get more nervous than I usually do and I'll probably get more emotional," said Maeda, who pitched against the Astros in the 2017 World Series during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"(The Astros) are a really good team. They have a lot of good batters and I think they're the kind of team that gets stronger under pressure," he said of the Houston team that finished the regular season second in the American League West with a 29-31 record.
Maeda said in an online press conference he expects the Astros' batting lineup will have improved since their last encounter and that he understands the need to come up with a new game plan.
The 32-year-old Japanese right-hander, who was acquired from the Dodgers in an offseason trade, is 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts this season.
Maeda spent four solid seasons as a starter for the Dodgers and pitched as a reliever in three postseasons.
He was impressive in his Twins debut on July 26 in the coronavirus-shortened season, tossing five innings and earning the win against the Chicago White Sox.
But the start of Major League Baseball season was overshadowed by the pandemic. The Twins had four COVID-19 positive tests before the start of training camp.
"I wasn't sure we'd make it through the regular season but we did. I saw some good results with the new team and it's been a good year (so far)," Maeda said.
"I've been given the chance to start in a postseason game for the first time in a long time so I want to help the team win," he said.
His last start in the playoffs came in the 2016 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.
MLB devised a new playoff format for 2020, which created an expanded first round involving eight best-of-three series.
The coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March and pushed back Opening Day roughly four full months. As a result, MLB shortened its 2020 regular season to 60 games.