The Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting rotation underwent some notable changes this offseason, beginning with longtime pitching coach Rick Honeycutt stepping down from the position. Mark Prior will now occupy the role after spending the previous two seasons as bullpen coach.
The group additionally lost two key contributors in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill. The former turned a career 2019 season into a four-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, while the latter signed an incentives-laden one-year pact with the Minnesota Twins.
Even with those departures, the Dodgers’ starting rotation figures to remain a strong point heading into the 2020 season. Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw will once again anchor the unit, rounded out by Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias and whoever earns the final spot in Spring Training.
As for Maeda, who is now entering his fifth season with the Dodgers, he returns to the starting rotation after closing out the 2019 campaign in the bullpen. The right-hander has taken that path in each of the past three seasons, but made it clear his preference is to start on a permanent basis.
So much so that he reportedly would welcome a trade in order to get his wish.
While Maeda will have an early opportunity to prove he can stick in the starting rotation, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman challenged him to improve in certain areas. “Kenta is a guy that’s lethal against right-handed hitters and struggled some against lefties,” he said at FanFest.
“We challenged him with that, we sat down and walked through it with him. His goal is to make 30, 32 starts, and be one of four for us in the playoffs. And that’s awesome; we hope he does.”
As Friedman alluded to, Maeda has been tough on right-handed batters over the course of his career, holding them to a paltry .199/.251/.339 batting line. The opposite split has been much more successful, however, batting .257/.330/.436.
With Maeda hoping to make at least 30 starts this season, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t reached that mark since his rookie campaign in 2016. He accumulated 32 starts during the regular season, winning a career-best 16 games while posting a career-low 3.48 ERA.
Maeda went on to make three more starts in the postseason, but struggled mightily to the tune of a 6.84 ERA and 1.78 WHIP.
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