With starting rotations shortened in the postseason, Kenta Maeda was the odd man out as the Los Angeles Dodgers began a march to their first World Series appearance since 1988. But rather than simply cast him aside, the club orchestrated a plan for the right-hander to still contribute.
Because of a surplus of starters who were on the active roster last season, Maeda at times found himself pitching out of the bullpen. There was a noticeable increase in velocity and effectiveness as he emptied the tank in short relief appearances.
That laid the foundation for what Maeda then accomplished in the postseason. He went 2-0 in nine appearances, with a 0.84 ERA and 10 strikeouts against just one walk in 10.2 innings. Opponents hit a feeble .135/.179/.216 over that span.
Despite the success, the Dodgers made it clear Maeda went into the spring again a member of the starting rotation. As such, the 29-year-old made his debut on Tuesday and threw two hitless innings against the Texas Rangers.
Though he is back to a role as a starter, Maeda said he intends to lean on the success experienced as a relief pitcher, according to Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group:
But he acknowledged he will “try to remember that Kenta (from the postseason) and try to imitate that” as a starter this season.
“Throwing max effort for just one inning was something that I hadn’t done before. That’s something I’d like to carry over as a starter,” he said. “But I think in general just being aggressive, extremely aggressive in the zone is something I will definitely take away.”
Making that adjustment after having a different mentality as a starter his whole career will be “difficult,” Maeda acknowledged.
In 57 starts over the past two seasons, Maeda is 28-17 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He’s 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four relief appearances; all of which came last season.
Although Maeda is earmarked for a spot in the Dodgers’ Opening Day rotation, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility that he once more shifts to the bullpen for potential playoff games.
That versatility is one reason Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi deemed Maeda a ‘very underrated’ component to the team’s success.