The Dodgers summoned Kenta Maeda in the eighth inning Tuesday night with an unenviable task. The heart of the Colorado Rockies’ lineup waited in a tie game. One mistake could have cost the Dodgers first place.
First up was Nolan Arenado, an MVP candidate. Three pitches, three strikes. Next came Matt Holliday. Three pitches, three strikes.
Ian Desmond followed. Maeda stumbled, finally, and threw a ball to begin the at-bat. Then the right-hander struck out Desmond with the next three pitches. The near-immaculate summary: 10 pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts. He unleashed a yell as he walked off the mound.
Dodger Stadium was rocking.
Twenty-four hours later, pitching on consecutive days for the first time this season, Maeda struck out the first two batters he faced in the eighth inning before Arenado poked a 58-mph single to shallow right field.
The hit ended Maeda’s night, as Scott Alexander was called in to get the third out. Maeda threw 10 pitches, and the Dodgers won both games as he continued looking like the elite high-leverage reliever the Dodgers need.
“We’re betting on it,” manager Dave Roberts said after the Dodgers’ 3-2 win.
Roberts explained having the 30-year-old Maeda excel as a reliever in time for the postseason was the objective since they removed him from the rotation for another stint in the bullpen in mid-August. The returns were shaky before Tuesday. Maeda had given up six earned runs across 112/3 innings and runs in five of his 10 relief appearances since the shift. But he was untouchable Tuesday with a deadly fastball-slider combination.
“I came out more aggressive,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “Me knowing that the game was on the line, I want to go out there and prove I can pitch in those situations.”
Maeda isn’t a bullpen novice. He made four relief appearances last season before becoming an invaluable weapon during the playoffs. Maeda gave up one run in 102/3 innings over nine outings during the Dodgers’ run to the World Series. Tuesday suggested Maeda can pitch at that level again.
“Obviously, in the ’pen, [that’s] the best we’ve seen him,” Roberts said. “It’s still that transition he’s trying to get used to. But as far as the conviction with the fastball, attacking hitters, and that slider, with the depth, we had him go against their best and it was really exciting to see. It was great to see him that emotional.”