In his first career major league start, pitcher Kenta Maeda hit a solo home run in a 7-0 victory over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. The drive was a towering shot into the left field bleachers of what is considered a “pitcher friendly” ballpark. It was a moment that quickly got Maeda off to a great start as a Dodger. Since then, the 28-year-old rookie from Japan hasn’t looked back. In a season that has seen the starting staff suffer through multiple injuries and inconsistencies, Maeda has been the one constant. He is a guy who, every fifth day, manager Dave Roberts can hand the ball to and have complete faith that he will provide the team with a quality start. When it comes to a first-year pitcher, that’s really all you can ask for.
“I think he’s exceeded our expectations,” Roberts said. “You can’t expect to be great every time out, but I think under all the circumstances, the adjustments [Japan to the United States], Kenta has been fantastic. Every time he takes the ball we feel good about it.”
Roberts’ decision to switch Maeda and Jose De Leon starts, Maeda will start the final game of the season on Sunday. In making the start Maeda will cash in on a $1.5 million incentive in his contract, in what was a contract of 8-years, $25 million. This can be seen as a gesture of gratitude by Roberts and his staff by assuring him of this raise. The rest of the contract can make Maeda more than $100 million dollars, according to foxsports.com.
Corey Seager is going to win the Rookie of the Year Award in the National League, and rightfully so. The Dodger shortstop his having an MVP caliber season and has an extremely bright future. But let’s not lose sight of what Maeda is doing in his rookie campaign. His 16 victories are most among Dodger rookie pitchers since Rick Sutcliffe won 17 games back in 1979.
What’s most impressive is as the season has progressed Maeda has gotten better. Often times with first-year pitchers, hitters begin to figure them out and take advantage of their weaknesses. Maeda’s ERA in the month of September is 2.73 and he’s holding opposing lineups to a .206 batting average; this all coming while the team was in the midst of a pennant race. Perhaps his durability and good health this late in the season can be attributed to the time he spent pitching in Japan before coming to the Dodgers.
“I played in Japan for nine years and never left the team for a long period of time because of injury,” Maeda said shortly after agreeing to his contract. “I’m not worried about this season at all. I’m confident I’ll be able to pitch.”
Maeda’s success has been especially gratifying to Dodger fans that were weary of the front office’s decision to not sign Zack Greinke to a ridiculous contract. Greinke has clearly not been himself this season while Maeda has shined. Roberts has chosen Maeda to start game three of the National League Divisional Series, and the Dodgers’ first year manager has complete confidence in his right-hander. Robert’s cited Maeda’s ability to adapt to hitters and trust his stuff as the game goes on.
“I think the thing with [Maeda] is that he is a student of the game,” Roberts said. “He has continued to gather information on hitters, and so you take that with scouting reports and what he feels he has working that day.”
It’s the Dodgers hope that Maeda’s success can continue into October, and the team can ride their rookie from Japan toward a World Series Championship. He will be up against some tough competition in the first round when they face the Washington Nationals, who boast a very talented pitching staff of their own. At the very least, the Dodgers know that in a tight game Maeda has the ability to not only keep the team close, he can also hit the long ball.