Kenta Maeda consulted with Hisashi Iwakuma this winter and dined with him when they both decamped for spring training. Iwakuma is seven years older than Maeda and a veteran of four big league seasons, so Maeda beseeched him for advice.
"One thing that he told me that being able to adjust to the lifestyle and how it's done here is probably the most important thing," Maeda said through his interpreter after his Dodgers lost, 6-3, to Iwakuma's Mariners on Monday at Camelback Ranch.
In Japan, Maeda explained, spring training does not last this long. The players run more and complete more drills. They also receive more days off. The adjustment remains his chief concern as he approaches his first season with the Dodgers. He has yet to be overwhelmed by the challenges of major league hitters.
In his fourth Cactus League outing, Maeda rebounded from an early stumble to strike out five batters in five innings. After the first three Mariners reached base, two coming around to score, Maeda retired 15 of the next 16. His Cactus League earned-run average is 1.32.
Maeda felt as if he rushed through the early at-bats, which led to a double by shortstop Ketel Marte, a single by outfielder Luis Sardinas and a two-run single by second baseman Robinson Cano. Maeda settled down after Chase Utley ignited a double play from third base on a grounder off the bat of slugger Nelson Cruz.
"In the first inning, I think I threw a little too hard," Maeda said. "The next time around, I focused on locating my pitches low, in the strike zone."
Part of his excitement stemmed from sharing the diamond with Iwakuma. The Dodgers used a designated hitter, so Maeda did not wield a bat. But he acknowledged "today was a little more exciting than a usual start."
Maeda and Iwakuma could have been teammates. The Dodgers reached a three-year, $45-million agreement with Iwakuma in early December, only to see the deal crumble when Iwakuma failed his physical. Iwakuma returned instead to the Mariners. The Dodgers added Maeda and Scott Kazmir later in the winter.
Maeda entered this spring as a curiosity. His own physical examination revealed irregularities that hamstrung him in negotiations. But with Hyun-Jin Ryu sidelined until at least early summer and Brett Anderson probably out until late summer, Maeda becomes an even more critical contributor.
Manager Dave Roberts expressed his admiration for Maeda's performance thus far. On multiple occasions Monday, the manager noticed Maeda shake the catcher's signal to the pitch he sought to throw. To Roberts, it meant Maeda was reading the swings of the hitters and was making adjustments.
"When you get into a season, and now you get information to attack hitters, he's going to be that much better," Roberts said. "That's what we expected of Kenta. That's held true."
The true test for Maeda will come during the regular season, when the intensity increases along with the scrutiny. Thus far, he has been sharp.
"Physically, I'm where I want to be," Maeda said. "And execution-wise, I think I've been able to execute pretty well."