This spring has been a homecoming for pitcher Kenta Maeda, who will be back in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation after spending time as a reliever last autumn.
After a couple of limited stints in the bullpen during the season, Maeda was an effective short reliever in the postseason, allowing one run in 10⅔ innings, while striking out 10 and walking two. But manager Dave Roberts intends to keep Maeda in the starting rotation this season, the right-hander’s third in the majors.
“It was good, just to see him in the pen, see his stuff play up like that was great,” Roberts told Kyodo News last month at the Dodgers’ spring training facility in Glendale, Arizona.
“But he is one of our five starters.”
Maeda appears happy to resume the starting role he had held down since he was a second-year pro out of high school with the Hiroshima Carp in NPB’s Central League. Both Maeda and Roberts believe the lessons from the pen will help the pitcher as a starter.
“It had been a long time since I’d been assigned to the bullpen, where I could throw with all my strength,” Maeda said.
“As a starter, you generally throw about 70 to 80 percent of full strength every inning in order to fashion a game your team can win. For the first time in a long time, I was asked to come out and throw with all my might for just one inning.
“I think that was really a good experience, from the standpoint of asking my body to do more and responding to that.”
Roberts said the bullpen mind set of going all-out required not only greater physical effort per pitch but a different kind of mentality.
“I think to just be on the attack and on the aggressive from the first pitch, I think that helped him in the bullpen,” Roberts said. “And I think as a starter that’s going to help him, too.”
Maeda said entering the 2017 season as a starter and finishing as a reliever gave him a little extra stimulus last winter, but admitted he had forgotten some of his preparation routines he took as a starter.
“Today was my first game,” he said after a sharp two-inning stint against the Texas Rangers on Feb. 27. “To be honest, I’d forgotten some of my routine that I did before starts, but I think I’ll remember as I go along. I changed the way I warm up part way through last season, when I was shifted to the bullpen.”
Part of Maeda’s charm is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Asked to reflect on what he’s learned about preparation after two seasons in the major leagues, he admitted not having much of a clue when he arrived in the spring of 2016.
“In my first year, I was kind of in a haze, ‘Oh do this? OK.’ I just did it without giving it much thought,” he said.
“But to be honest, I still don’t give it that much thought.”
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