The Los Angeles Dodgers found a revelation in 2017 when they moved starter Kenta Maeda to the bullpen for the postseason and he wound up being a dominant high-leverage reliever in front of closer Kenley Jansen.
Maeda returned to his traditional role in 2018 and turned in a very solid season for the Dodgers. He stepped up when other starters such as Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu were on the disabled list during various points in the first half of the season.
As the Dodgers starting rotation got back to health and their bullpen struggled, particularly during Kenley Jansen’s absence, Maeda was moved back into the bullpen.
He wasn’t necessarily thrilled by the decision but was willing to do it in order to help the Dodgers get back to the World Series.
Maeda had a few rough outings when he first made the move but has since returned his dominant 2017 postseason form. During the series against the Colorado Rockies, he made two appearances, allowing just one base hit while striking out five of the six hitters he faced.
Despite the success, Maeda’s stance about pitching out of the bullpen has not changed. As he told Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times, he prefers to start but feels comfortable as a reliever:
“It hasn’t changed from the beginning,” he said. “It feels the same, normal. I’ve done it in the playoffs so I feel good.”
Maeda has incentives in his contract that are based on innings pitched and starts made so, unfortunately, he will be losing out on some of those, although he said that is not the reason he prefers to be a starter.
He has 24 strikeouts compared to just three walks in 14.2 innings out of the bullpen this season, and the Dodgers bullpen has improved greatly since he joined that unit. So while he may not be happy about it, and rightfully so, the move looks to be the right one and should once again prove valuable in the postseason.