The night’s first batter spelled trouble for Kenta Maeda.
In a vacuum, issuing a full-count walk to Adam Eaton to begin Friday’s game at Dodger Stadium on Friday was minor. But these games aren’t played in vacuums and recent history — the command problems hindering Maeda this young season — suggested difficulties loomed. It was another walk, another leadoff man on base, another self-created obstacle to overcome.
And it was merely a blip. Maeda shifted gears from there, retiring 18 of the final 20 Washington Nationals he faced in the Dodgers’ 5-0 victory. The right-hander surrendered one hit — a leadoff single to Wilmer Difo in the third inning — over six innings. He walked two while striking out six.
“He was just in complete control,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
It was the best of Maeda’s eight outings so far in an uneven 2019. He entered the night having walked 18 batters in his initial 382/3 innings. Last season, he walked 43 batters in 1251/3 innings. He walked 2.6 batters per nine innings over his first three years in Los Angeles. Before Friday, that number was up to 4.2 in 2019.
The troubles resulted in inconsistency. He oscillated between good and poor outings over his first seven turns.
Maeda explained Friday’s performance was a carryover from the final two innings in his previous start Sunday against the San Diego Padres. He said he discovered his slider in those two frames. On Friday, he threw 33 sliders. Seven were called strikes. Six induced swing-and-misses. Six were fouled off. Four were put in play. The only hit he gave up came on a changeup.
“I was able to keep the good flow going,” Maeda said through an interpreter.
Julio Urias partnered with him to keep the Nationals without a run. The left-hander completed three scoreless innings for his second save this week with some help from Max Muncy at third base.
With bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, Anthony Rendon scorched a ground ball to Muncy's right. Muncy, never mistaken for an elite defender, snagged it with a dive and beat Difo to third base with another dive to end the inning, robbing Rendon of extra bases and the Nationals of at least two runs.
It was the most recent of a few stellar defensive plays at different positions for Muncy this week. Roberts suggested he would’ve inserted Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning to close the game. Muncy’s effort saved some mileage on Jansen’s arm.
“That could’ve been a different game,” Roberts said.
Shortstop Corey Seager was initially in the Dodgers’ starting lineup, batting fifth, but the club announced he was scratched at 6:45 p.m. Chris Taylor moved from second base to shortstop and Enrique Hernandez was inserted at second base. After the game, Roberts said Seager was scratched because a personal matter surfaced. He was in the dugout by the middle of the game.
With Seager in the lineup Thursday, the Dodgers (26-15) suffered their third shutout and first at home when Patrick Corbin, a familiar nemesis, muzzled them again. They wasted no time scoring 24 hours later.
Joc Pederson smacked a leadoff home run off right-hander Anibal Sanchez — his third leadoff homer this season and 14th of his career, tying him for second in franchise history. It was Pederson’s first home run he clubbed two on his birthday April 21. He added a 113.7-mph missile into the visitors’ bullpen in the fifth inning for his 12th home run this season — two more than his singles total.
“I think I have an overly aggressive swing,” Pederson said. “I definitely try to hit the ball really hard because I think good things happen when you hit the ball hard.”
Sanchez was chased with two outs in the inning. Two frames later, David Freese feasted on the Nationals’ leaky bullpen and supplied some insurance with an opposite-field, two-run home run.
Maeda, meanwhile, had baffled the Nationals. He needed only 86 pitches in six innings to carve up the overmatched lineup. He struck out Rendon with his final pitch before passing the baton to Urias.