Maeda, who was squaring off with fellow Japan native Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners, turned a rough start into another impressive outing, giving up two runs on four hits over five innings with five strikeouts.
The start had disaster written all over it when the Mariners reeled off three consecutive hits to open the game and led 2-0 before the first out was recorded. But Maeda got down to business from there, retiring 14 of the next 15 batters he faced.
“During the first inning, I think I threw a little too hard, so the next time around I focused on locating my pitches low in the strike zone,” Maeda said afterward through an interpreter.
That was the simplistic version of how the turnaround happened. Manager Dave Roberts saw something more complex than that.
“He has high acumen; his pitchability is off the charts,” Roberts said. “You know what was encouraging was that he shook (off the pitch selection) a couple of times just to get to a certain pitch. You saw him get into the at-bat and saw hitters swing by making the in-at-bat adjustment."
Maeda now has given up four runs over his first 13 2/3 spring innings with the Dodgers, but only two of those runs have been earned, good for a 1.32 ERA.
“I think physically I’m where I wanted to be,” Maeda said. “Execution-wise, I think I have been able to execute pretty well.”
The right-hander is expected to get two more starts in spring training before making his regular-season debut, likely April 6 at San Diego. If the Dodgers see then what they are seeing in spring training, they will have somebody they can count on after a spring run where a number of starters have fallen by the wayside because of injury.
“When you get into the major league season and get the information on how to attack hitters, he’s going to be that much better,” Roberts said. “That is what we kind of expected out of Kenta, and that has held true.”
Maeda insisted his high-energy first inning had nothing to do with facing Iwakuma, who gave up three run on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings.
"I was very happy to be able to pitch against him because this is something I cannot do during the regular season," Maeda said. "It was fun."