Maeda helps Dodgers avoid sweep with 4-2 win in Colorado

Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda gave up four hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings Thursday.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The most reliable member of the Dodgers rotation did not flunk his physical last winter, but he did not exactly pass without incident. An examination of Kenta Maeda’s right arm revealed enough red flags to allow the team to sign him on an eight-year, incentive-laden contract rather than a nine-figure, guaranteed bonanza.

Yet on Thursday evening, by lasting into the sixth inning of 4-2 victory over the Rockies, Maeda placed himself atop the team leaderboard with 125 2/3 innings this season. The title comes with an asterisk. With Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list, perhaps for the duration of the season, Maeda closed the gap by making six more starts.

But for a rotation blighted by injuries to veterans and meltdowns by rookies, Maeda has emerged as a steady presence in his rookie season.


“He’s been huge for us these last couple months,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said.

Maeda limited the Rockies to a pair of runs as the Dodgers (60-48) staved off a sweep and stayed within two games of San Francisco in the National League West. Corey Seager tied a franchise record for homers by a shortstop, and Grandal cracked the go-ahead, two-run triple in the fifth.

Maeda (10-7, 3.22 earned-run average) struck out five and gave up only four hits. Pedro Baez, Joe Blanton and Kenley Jansen collected the final 10 outs.

“Kenta threw the ball really well, and kept those guys off balance,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “And really executed all his pitches tonight.”

The Rockies pounded 19 runs out of the Dodgers pitching staff during the first two nights here. Brandon McCarthy could not throw strikes Tuesday. Brock Stewart could not keep the baseball in the park Wednesday. The bullpen faltered in both games.

Maeda took the mound at Coors Field for the second time. On April 23, making his fourth career start, he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and held the Rockies scoreless for the evening. He impressed his bosses by ignoring the unkind elements at this ballpark and continued that trend Thursday.

“I’m aware that the reputation here is that the balls fly farther,” Maeda said through his interpreter. “But I’m not thinking about that.”

The two clubs traded scoreless half-innings until the fourth. Josh Reddick reached base for the first time as a Dodger by coaxing a leadoff walk off Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood. Adrian Gonzalez threaded a ground ball through a defensive shift, which allowed Reddick to take third, and he scored on a single by Howie Kendrick.

Maeda had faced two more than the minimum during the first three innings. Colorado nabbed the lead with two at-bats in the fourth. Nolan Arenado, the Rockies’ All-Star third baseman, led off with a single. Then Maeda was punished for feeding rookie David Dahl a fastball at the belt. The two-run homer pulled Colorado ahead.

“After that, he was lights out,” Grandal said.

Seager tied the game in the fifth. He crushed a flat changeup for his 19th homer of the season, tying the franchise record for homers by a shortstop, which was set by Hanley Ramirez in 2013.

“I’ve never really hit this many,” Seager said. “So who knows what it is? It’s just happening.”

The Dodgers did not stop there. Justin Turner thumped a double off the wall in center field. Gonzalez hit a grounder deep enough into the hole to leg out an infield single. There were two out for Grandal.

At the end of June, Grandal’s batting average was stuck at .179. He might never win a batting title, but the Dodgers felt he would benefit from regression back to his career norms. The next month bore that out. Grandal hit .324 in July with eight homers. He raised his on-base plus slugging percentage from .639 to .778.

Grandal ripped a changeup into the right-center gap. Turner scored easily. Gonzalez took a more adventurous route. He received a late signal from third base coach Chris Woodward, and made an awkward slide by jamming his left leg and barrel rolling in the dirt.

Gonzalez picked himself up and headed for the dugout. The Dodgers had given Maeda another chance to collect the victory. He got through the fifth, and exited with two outs in the sixth.

“For Kenta, the more you see him, the more you like him,” Roberts said. “You believe in his toughness. When you talk about guys doing a little bit more and picking each other up, he’s right there at the top of the list.”

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes