Maeda fails to see point of attack
Right-hander’s lack of aggressiveness leads to another short outing and a Dodgers loss.
MILWAUKEE — Dave Roberts ventured to the far end of the Dodgers dugout on Sunday afternoon and found Kenta Maeda. The fourth inning of a 3-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers had just ended. For the second outing in a row, Roberts did not feel comfortable sending Maeda back to the mound for the fifth. He came to tell Maeda why.
“I want him to understand that I have confidence in him,” Roberts said. “But there’s got to be something that he’s got to give me, and the team — a reason to keep sending him out there.”
When he debuted in the majors in 2016, Maeda buoyed an injury-prone starting rotation and never missed a start. He sagged in the second half of the season, but his performance kept the club afloat after Clayton Kershaw and others disappeared on the disabled list. He won 16 games and posted a 3.48 earned-run av-
Maeda has been unable to replicate those early successes in 2017 — he’s 4-3 with a 5.16 ERA — and his outing Sunday offered a microcosm of the trouble.
In the eyes of his manager, Maeda shied away from contact. His command wavered and he often threw pitches that lacked purpose. He allowed at-bats to extend. He permitted two runs and required 92 pitches to collect 12 outs, an output that exposed an already taxed bullpen to heavy duty. Sergio Romo allowed a solo home run in the eighth inning.
The deterioration from Maeda has left Dodgers officials searching for answers. Team officials have spoken to him about operating with more urgency, attacking hitters, embracing the necessity of contact. Maeda has absorbed the advice and attempted to implement it. He blames his trouble on wayward execution, rather than a misshapen mentality.
“I wasted too many pitches, overall,” Maeda said. “I didn’t execute at all. So the result ended being like this.”
Roberts expects Maeda to remain in the rotation. Despite the team’s wealth of depth, they lack a ready alternative. Alex Wood is resting his inflamed sternum on the disabled list. Julio Urias is sorting out his own mechanical glitches in the minors. Brock Stewart is rebuilding arm strength after injuring his shoulder during spring training. Trevor Oaks has performed creditably for triple-A Oklahoma City, but has not pounded down the door.
That leaves Maeda, for now, as a member of the starting five. He will likely return to action next weekend against the Cincinnati Reds. The team returns to Dodger Stadium on Monday for a rematch from the National League division series with Washington. The Dodgers finished their trip with a 4-3 record.
During their three losses on this swing through the Midwest, the lineup produced one run.
After staging ninth-inning rallies on Friday and Saturday, the Dodgers (3523) managed just three singles on Sunday. The team waited until the fifth inning to record a hit — Yasmani Grandal’s infield single — against Milwaukee righthander Zach Davies. After a pair of singles in the seventh, reliever Oliver Drake forced Grandal to hit into a rallysquashing double play.
“Davies was good,” Roberts said. “He kept the ball down, he kept the ball away, changed speeds. If you look at the at-bats throughout the day, we just didn’t really get off many good swings.”
And Maeda did not get off to a good start. Most pitchers deteriorate during their third trip through the batting order. Maeda experiences a more confounding obstacle. He struggles at the start of the game. Heading into Sunday, he had allowed opposing hitters to post a 1.050 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the first inning, transforming each batter in Bryce Harper.
The pattern continued Sunday. In the second at-bat of the first inning, Maeda flipped a curveball toward outfielder Eric Thames. The pitch flirted with the outer edge of the zone. Thames swung anyway. He clobbered his 15th home run of the season.
Maeda did not allow another run in the first. But he threw 30 pitches. In the second, he handed Milwaukee a second run. He issued a leadoff walk to catcher Manny Pina by throwing four consecutive balls after two quick strikes. He hit shortstop Orlando Arcia with an 0-2 changeup. A twoout single by second baseman Eric Sogard scored Pina.
“When you get ahead of hitters like he does, you’ve got to be able to put them away,” Roberts said of Maeda. “I think he starts to be a little too afraid of contact. There’s a lot of noncompetitive pitchers once he gets ahead, and we’ve got to clean that up.”
Maeda offered a short response when asked why he has struggled to finish atbats. “Maybe I was being a little too fine,” he said.
After the fourth, Roberts told Maeda his day was over. Maeda could not argue. He is not the only Dodgers pitcher to struggle thus far. Rich Hill has been displeased with his own delivery. But Maeda has minor league options, and his utility in the bullpen may be limited. Roberts would not say that Maeda is facing a crossroads. But one cannot be far off.
“Here, it’s about production,” Roberts said. “We can’t have the shorter outings. We’ve got to find some length.”
IT TOOK Kenta Maeda 92 pitches to record 12 outs. He allowed only two runs but lasted just four innings.
MILWAUKEE’S Eric Thames reacts after striking out in the second, one of seven strikeouts for the Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda, who allowed two hits and walked three.