The Los Angeles Dodgers have enjoyed immense success this season in using starting pitchers out of the bullpen. On Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds, it was Kenta Maeda’s opportunity to shine as a reliever.
Heading into the weekend series, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Maeda would piggyback with Rich Hill or Alex Wood. Hill went five innings before giving way to Maeda. The relief appearance was his first since doing so in 2008 as a rookie in Japan.
Maeda converted a four-out save in the Dodgers’ 7-2 victory, allowing a solo home run in the ninth and later a back-to-back two out single. Prior to that point, he threw three perfect innings with five strikeouts. “I think for the most part, the intent to attack the strike zone was there,” Roberts said.
“It might have also been a mindset, where you’re looking at the scoreboard, and the most you’re going to be able to go is four innings. So there’s no pacing yourself coming across your mind. He was on the attack all night long.”
While the appearance yielded improve results, there isn’t yet a plan to insert Maeda back into the starting rotation. “Kenta is very competitive,” Roberts said. “He wanted to show he’s worthy of another opportunity in the rotation.
“Unless something unforeseen happens to our starters, he’ll be in this role.” When the 29-year-old next pitches is unknown, though Roberts surmised Maeda would be unavailable for the next two or three games.
The club aims to use him as close to a regular turn as a starting pitcher, and in scenarios where Maeda can pitch four or five innings. A starter his entire career, both in Japan and the Majors, there naturally was some disenchantment with a change in role.
“I was a starter all my life, so it was disappointing when I found out I was going to the bullpen,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “With good results, I’ll hopefully be back in the rotation.”
Maeda doesn’t need to look any further than Hyun-Jin Ryu. A string of poor starts led to the southpaw landing in the bullpen. Ryu also converted a four-inning save in his first career relief appearance.
He expressed a similar sentiment as Maeda, calling himself a ‘starter at heart,’ and parlayed the strong showing out of the bullpen into a spot in the rotation when injury forced Alex Wood to the disabled list.