Turner homers in his return and Maeda gets the save in Dodgers’ 7-2 win over the Reds
A Dodgers season defined by adaptation and experimentation — in which the starting pitchers reshuffle on a weekly basis, infielders learn the outfield and outfielders thrown bullpen sessions — added another wrinkle in Friday’s 7-2 victory over Cincinnati.
Kenta Maeda plummeted out of the starting rotation last weekend. He had looked tentative and meek in his prior outings, unable to finish at-bats, unlikely to build more trust with manager Dave Roberts. Rather than option him to the minors, the Dodgers shipped him to their clearinghouse for wayward starters: The bullpen.
In his first relief appearance since 2008, when he was a 20-year-old playing for the Hiroshima Carp, Maeda offered a reminder about the pitcher he was for much of 2016. He became the second Dodger to record a four-inning save this season, joining Hyun-Jin Ryu in that category. Ryu had teamed up with Maeda in a similar situation last month. Ryu won his spot back in the rotation. Maeda lost his to make room.
As a starter this season, Maeda has shown a propensity for sluggish beginnings. In his relief debut, he overwhelmed the Reds. Maeda struck out six and did not waver until former National League MVP Joey Votto launched a homer in the ninth. He offered a satisfying conclusion to a breezy victory.
Roberts expects Maeda to remain a long reliever for the foreseeable future. But he still commended his pitcher for the performance.
“Kenta’s very competitive,” Roberts said. “And wanted to show that he’s worthy of another opportunity in the rotation.”
The Dodgers (37-25) never trailed. Justin Turner inaugurated his return from the disabled list by homering in his first at-bat. Chris Taylor reached base three times and scored twice. Enrique Hernandez supplied a home run. Rich Hill (3-2, 3.77 earned-run average) bulled through early-game shakiness to hold the Reds to two hits across five innings of one-run baseball.
In Turner, the Dodgers welcomed back their most reliable hitter. He posted a .946 on-base-plus-slugging percentage before landing on the disabled list, despite having hit only one home run. He did not wait long to remind his teammates of what they had missed. A walk by Taylor set the stage for Turner’s return. He forced a 2-1 count against Reds rookie Amir Garrett. When Garrett tried a 91-mph fastball, Turner bashed it into the Dodgers bullpen beyond the left-field fence.
Hill suffered self-inflicted grief in the second and third innings. The Reds pushed his pitch count to 71 after nine outs. In the second, Hill permitted a leadoff walk after picking up two strikes on third baseman Eugenio Suarez. Hill made a wild throw on a swinging bunt by outfielder Patrick Kivlehan and allowed an RBI single to former Dodger Jose Peraza.
The third inning involved no runs but perhaps more irritation. In the bottom of the second, Garrett had left the game after getting cracked in the hand by a line drive from catcher Austin Barnes. In Garrett’s place came reliever Jake Buchanan. Hill walked Buchanan to start the third.
Hill needed 35 pitches to finish the inning. Cincinnati shortstop Zack Cozart took another walk after an 11-pitch entanglement. Hill shook loose of the inning by getting Votto to fly out and Suarez to a ground out.
“After the third inning, there was a little bit of a lull for me, just in terms of committing and having that aggressiveness,” Hill said. “But we got back on track in the fourth and fifth inning.”
The Dodgers wrung two runs out of Buchanan in the bottom of the third. After singles by Taylor and Franklin Gutierrez, Logan Forsythe provided a productive plate appearance by walking to load the bases. Barnes bounced a fastball to the side of the mound, where Buchanan scooped it up and made a wild throw. One run scored on Barnes’ infield single. A second came home on Buchanan’s error.
The fourth offered an identical bounty. Taylor led off with a double. Corey Seager walked. Turner got clipped by an inside fastball. Two runs scored on a single by Gutierrez, who had not recorded a hit since May 16.
Hill hung around to find a rhythm in his final two innings. He finished his evening by striking out Cozart with three fastballs in a row. Hill has yet to throw a pitch in the sixth inning of a game this season. Friday could represent a building block — unless he falls prey to the wildness that nearly undid him in the second and the third.
Maeda showed no signs of unsteadiness. He got Votto to ground out on a second-pitch cutter. Maeda followed that by striking out four of the next five men he faced.
Unwilling to attack hitters as a starter, he looked reborn as a reliever. “He was on the attack all night long,” Roberts said.
When the Dodgers shifted Maeda into the bullpen this week, Roberts indicated the move was not permanent. But it required an outing as a reliever for Maeda to remind the Dodgers why he was once so valuable as a starter.
“The best situation is that with good results,” Maeda said, “I’ll be back in the rotation.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes
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