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Kenta Maeda's performance on the mound leads to Dodgers' victory over the Reds

Kenta Maeda's performance on the mound leads to Dodgers' victory over the Reds
Dodgers starting pitcher Kenta Maeda (18) pitches against the Cincinnati Reds. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Too often this young season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has taken the ball from his starting pitcher with disappointment, forced to make a change earlier than planned. The starting rotation’s regular ineffectiveness produced a snowball effect — the onus shifted to the bullpen, which became fatigued and exploitable, and the losses followed against more stout competition. The mess peaked Saturday when the Dodgers, down a starting pitcher, were forced to use six relievers to get through nine innings and lost their sixth straight game.

Their fortunes have since flipped. For the third straight game, a Dodgers starter pitched into the seventh inning Tuesday. After Ross Stripling logged eight innings and Clayton Kershaw went seven the previous two days, Kenta Maeda held the Cincinnati Reds to one run in 6 ⅔ innings in a 6-1 victory at Dodger Stadium.

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“It’s great,” Roberts said, “and that’s what our guys are capable of.”

Maeda walked three and struck out five. He exited in the sixth inning after retiring two batters so left-handed Scott Alexander could face the dangerous left-handed-hitting Joey Votto. Alexander struck him out with five pitches. Joe Kelly and Yimi Garcia then recorded scoreless innings to complete the Dodgers’ third consecutive win.

The Dodgers (11-8) were without Justin Turner (ankle) and Cody Bellinger (knee) in their starting lineup, but employed enough firepower anyway, scoring each of their six runs with two outs. Corey Seager and Alex Verdugo each recorded two singles and a double. For Verdugo, who started in right field for Bellinger, it was his first career three-hit game.

The Reds (5-11) tested Verdugo in the seventh inning. After Max Muncy lined a two-out double off left-hander Zach Duke, Cincinnati elected to intentionally walk Enrique Hernandez, a right-handed hitter, with first base open to bring up Verdugo, a left-handed hitter. The Reds were playing the matchup. It backfired. Verdugo split the left-center-field gap for a two-run double, his third hit of the night.

“It’s a slap in the face, a little bit, you know?” Verdugo said. “That’s the way I think of it. But you understand it from a baseball aspect. You got [Hernandez] up there, right versus lefty, [and he] hits lefties extremely well. The base is open at first. It’s a smart play. It’s the baseball play. But, for me, I carry that with a little bit of an extra chip on my shoulder. I want to do damage and make lefties pay too.”

Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, two outfielders from a previous Dodger generation, were back in the Reds’ starting lineup Tuesday, but Dodger Stadium didn’t pulsate with the energy it possessed the previous night when both former Dodgers made loud returns. There were no resounding ovations. No cap or helmet tips. The “Puuuuig” chants were shorter and softer.

The players’ production dropped too. After cracking a two-run home run off Clayton Kershaw on Monday, Puig cracked a flyball off Kelly in the eighth inning that landed just foul down the right-field line. He then flied out to finish 0 for 4. Kemp went one for four with a double.

The Reds’ only run was scored when Tyler Mahle, their starting pitcher, and Votto recorded back-to-back doubles. Cincinnati threatened again in the fourth inning, loading the bases for Mahle, but Maeda struck the pitcher out on three pitches. Maeda retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, striking out the final two, before Roberts emerged to take the ball after his 98th pitch.

“I had a little too much on my pitches,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “I was able to make those adjustments and ease myself into it.”

The Reds opted to deploy a four-man outfield against Seager in each of his first three at-bats. It’s a trendy defensive alignment designed to steal hits from left-handed hitters when there isn’t a runner in scoring position. It failed to hinder Seager.

The Dodgers shortstop saw the configuration for the first time in the first inning and legged out an infield hit to the shortstop. He later scored when Verdugo hit a groundball to Reds second baseman Derek Dietrich with two outs and runners on the corners. Instead of ending the inning with the easy play at first base, Dietrich shoveled a toss to shortstop Jose Peraza at second base and Enrique Hernandez beat it to the bag to keep the inning alive.

In the second inning, Seager singled to shallow left field and scored on another Hernandez single. In the fourth, he smacked a ball over the outfield, off the right-field wall, for a double.

In between Seager’s exploits, Pederson launched a pitch to the right-field pavilion for the second straight night in the second inning. After laying off two pitches low and outside of the strike zone, he pounced on a 93-mph fastball up and away for a two-out, two-run home run.

It was his fifth home run in seven games and his eighth of the season. Only teammate Cody Bellinger and reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich have hit more home runs in the National League.

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The Dodgers applied the finishing touches with two outs in the seventh inning — once Mahle was removed — beginning with Muncy’s double against Duke. Moments later, Verdugo reveled at second base.

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