Because of their surplus of starting pitchers, the Los Angeles Dodgers at times moved Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu into the bullpen. Though, Ryu’s lone relief appearance came in May when he converted a four-inning save.
Maeda’s first time pitching out of the bullpen was also a four-inning save, in June. He pitched an inning in relief two weeks later, but was then placed back into the starting rotation. That was until the final week of the regular season.
Maeda was viewed as a candidate to make the National League Division Series as a relief pitcher. His final two appearances of the regular season were out of the bullpen as preparation for the potential role.
Not only did the 29-year-old wind up making the playoff roster as one of the Dodgers’ right-handed relievers, he excelled in the role.
Maeda entered with one out in the fifth inning of Game 2 and retired all three batters faced, including two by strikeout. He was handed the ball in the eighth inning of Game 3, retired the side in order and again struck out two batters.
The high-leverage situation was one that created some nerves for Maeda as he did not want to let down Yu Darvish or force Kenley Jansen to extend himself, per Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times:
“There was some nervousness involved,” Maeda said.
Maeda said he was motivated by his sense of obligation, particularly toward Darvish, who was in line for the victory.
“I felt I couldn’t lose it for him,” Maeda said. “Maybe I was able to channel those feelings into the baseball.”
Maeda also didn’t want to burden Jansen, the closer.
“I didn’t want Kenley to have to come out in the middle of the inning,” he said.
During the regular season Maeda struck out 32.6 percent of right-handed batters, which nearly doubled his 17.6 percent against left-handed hitters.
That earned him a spot in the postseason bullpen in a role Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described as a “righty killer.”