Maeda fails to see point of at­tack

Right-han­der’s lack of ag­gres­sive­ness leads to an­other short out­ing and a Dodgers loss.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Andy McCul­lough

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-

er­age.

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.”

Stacy Re­vere Getty Images

IT TOOK Kenta Maeda 92 pitches to record 12 outs. He al­lowed only two runs but lasted just four in­nings.

Morry Gash Associated Press

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.

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