Kenta Maeda alternated strong and subpar starts into the first week of May but has since authored consecutive stellar outings. He took the mound Wednesday night coming off six shutout innings of one-hit ball against the Washington Nationals.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts emphasized Maeda needing to have “conviction” and commitment when throwing his arsenal of pitches. “When it’s synced up, he’s as good as anybody,” Roberts said before the Dodgers faced the Padres in the finale of a two-game series at Dodger Stadium.
Maeda then went out and held San Diego scoreless over 6.2 dominant innings. He allowed just three hits and finished with a season-high 12 strikeouts. It was a fifth career double-digit strikeout game for Maeda, but the first in which each came on a swing and miss.
“Even though I did say I had one of my best pitching performances last time, I’m pretty sure this one surpasses that,” he said through a translator after the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory.
“The slider was going from the strike zone to out of the zone, my off-speed pitches, I think I was able to mix everything up. I did have that conviction all around during my outing. With that conviction I was able to attack the strike zone, get ahead in counts and keep my pitch count to a minimum.”
One of the hits Maeda allowed was a one-out single to Eric Hosmer in the seventh inning. The Dodgers’ starter followed it by striking out Hunter Renfroe, who was the final batter Maeda faced.
Boos rained down on Dodgers manager Dave Roberts as he walked to the mound to remove Maeda at just 85 pitches. “Kenta was on regular rest, and I think that seventh inning I started to see the ball go a little wide, the slider wasn’t as sharp,” Roberts explained.
Scott Alexander replaced Maeda, setting up a left-on-left matchup with Austin Allen. A groundout ended the inning.
“Even though I believe it is a starter’s duty to start an inning and end an inning, overall we were able to get the win, so I think that was the right move,” Maeda answered when asked about being removed.
The Dodgers finished 7-2 on their homestand not only because of Maeda’s dominance on the mound but his timely two-run bloop single in the second inning. He became the first pitcher since 1920 (when RBI became an official statistic) to record at least 12 strikeouts in a game while driving in all of his team’s runs (minimum two runs scored).
“I was able to let everyone know that if the ball hits the bat, something happens,” Maeda said of his key hit. He also showed a keen sense of strategy when stepping up to bat.
“If there’s no runner on base, I’m just going to go yard,” Maeda said of his thought process. “If there’s a runner on base or in scoring position, my main focus is getting him home.”