Maeda Goals: Stay In The Rotation/Crush Home Runs

PEORIA — Kenta Maeda is talented…and versatile…and a fierce competitor. Take a good look at his face the next time Los Angeles Dodger Manager Dave Roberts comes out to pull him from a game.

Maeda’s also a helluva nice guy, with a quick, occasionally bashful smile, who takes time to consider a reporter’s questions before answering.

He has not publicly questioned Roberts’ most notable decisions when it’s come to how the the last two years. Roberts removed Maeda from the starting rotation late in both years and had him come out of the bullpen in long relief during the playoffs.

There is no discussion as to how valuable he was in 2017 in that role: Nine games, nine innings, one earned run.

Phenomenal.

So, Roberts tried it again in 2018, and, except for Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Maeda came through time and time again.

There’s incredible value to having a guy who can come in and face multiple batters, especially with new Major League Baseball rules regarding number of batters per reliever.

But it’s not the kind of value Maeda wants to provide.

I asked him after a solid outing this spring against the Padres (4 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 6 K, 0 BB) how he balances the notion of being a really good starter and a really valuable reliever.

He didn’t shy away from the question, “I believe I am a starting pitcher. That’s the main role that I would like to have.” And he acknowledged that his performance on the mound could dictate how he’s used at the end of the year, “I believe I’ll have to prove myself to stay as a starting pitcher this year.”

Trades and trips to the team doctor have altered the Dodgers starting lineup.

As to how he fits into the rotation with Clayton Kershaw’s back troubles, Walker Buehler’s emergence/recent arm soreness, Ross Stripling’s push for a starting spot, Julio Urias’ return from 2017 shoulder surgery, and the loss of Alex Wood in the trade with the Reds?

Maeda said essentially he can only do his best and let the chips fall where they may, “I don’t want to rank myself. I believe I’m a starting pitcher and my main focus is going to be to stay on the rotation.”

One area where he can improve is his approach against lefties.
Maeda’s earned-run average was two runs higher and batting-average-against was 77 points higher against lefties last year. But, he has had success in spots on which to build. His use of the high fastball in the playoffs last year was key to his success and is a pitch with which most lefties have traditionally struggled.

“I am more confident in pitching against left-handed batters,” Maeda said, “I’m about the same in confidence pitching against right or left.”

As for his plans to send rockets screaming out of Chavez Ravine? Maeda crushed a Robbie Erlin fastball and bounced it eight feet up the wall in dead center field, 400 feet away. 

I asked him if this should serve as a warning to pitchers around the National League. He laughed, “It’s better off if it stays on the down low,”

Though he hasn’t hit a big fly since 2016, times are changing. This will be the year he starts the entire year, helps lead the Dodgers to the first World Series win in 31 years as a starter, and becomes the reincarnation of Dodgers pitching great Don Drysdale. “Big D” also hit one home run in his first year and went on to hit 28 more over the course of a Hall-of-Fame career.

“I think it’s about time that I should start hitting homers,” Maeda said.

He was smiling, but make no mistake. The only thing Kenta Maeda wants landing in the bullpen this year are 2-2 fastball he just crushed.

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