Your Major League debut isn’t supposed to be a fairy tale, but that’s exactly what transpired for right-hander Kenta Maeda as he made his first appearance in front of a big league crowd in a game that was officially counted in the standings. That fairy tale ended in a 7-0 win for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a moment Maeda will never forget.
The 27, soon to be 28, year old native of Japan was electric. His fastball had good life, his slider was an unbelievable weapon that was enough to flummox San Diego hitters all night long, and his solo home run was a wondrous occasion that will forever stand the test of time. He’s in the history books now, and he withstood the pressure that Clayton Kershaw and Scott Kazmir put him on with their great performances in the first two games.
“I was aware that there were no runs allowed in the first two games and [Kershaw and Kazmir] both won so I was definitely feeding off that momentum,” Maeda said. “At the same time, knowing that there were no runs scored, there was pressure for me too.”
Maeda lived up to his billing as someone who could generate easy outs. According to FanGraphs, Maeda generated a 72.2 percent ground ball rate. That’s an absurd number, and one that tells you just what he can do when he’s on his game. Even more astounding were his whiff numbers.
According to Brooks Baseball, Maeda threw 24 sliders. Padres hitters swung at 17 of the 24. They whiffed on seven of them and fouled off four. Of the remaining six, four were ground balls, one was a line drive, and one was a fly ball. Three of his four strikeouts were on his slider. As long as he has that weapon working, he might not feel pressure all too much.