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Kenta Maeda helping Dodgers ‘check boxes’ on their postseason bullpen plan

Dodgers reliever Kenta Maeda delivers against the Rockies.
The Dodgers are counting on Kenta Maeda to be a reliable arm out of the bullpen in the postseason.
(Getty Images)

Kenta Maeda faced as many media scrums as opposing hitters Saturday night.

Between his two separate chats with foreign reporters and the local press, Maeda chuckled. After logging just two-thirds of an inning, he wasn’t expecting to be the center of attention postgame.

But, on a night when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wanted to “check boxes” on his postseason prep plan, Maeda crossed an important item off the list. For the first time since being moved to the bullpen at the start of September, the right-hander pitched on back-to-back nights. He had no hiccups Saturday, retiring both batters he faced.

“First time being able to go back-to-back,” Maeda said through a translator, “I thought that was important.”

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For the third straight October, Maeda will be a reliever during the playoffs. He could prove to be an important linchpin in a Dodgers bullpen currently dealing with shaky performances from closer Kenley Jansen and lingering body soreness from set-up man Joe Kelly, and that is relying on a collection of young middle relievers. Pitching on consecutive nights might be the least of Maeda’s responsibilities when the postseason begins.

The Dodgers hit four home runs in their last regular-season home game, a 7-4 win over the Colorado Rockies that also set a franchise season attendance record.

“It was good for him, and it was good for us to see it,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He did great.”

Maeda’s back-to-back was by design. After tossing a scoreless inning Friday night, the 31-year-old needed just 10 pitches to retire Colorado Rockies hitters Josh Fuentes and Tony Wolters in the ninth inning Saturday. Afterward, Roberts said he won’t intentionally pitch Maeda — who has a 4.38 ERA in 12⅓ innings out of the bullpen this month — on consecutive nights again in the regular season.

“Now that we’ve done the back-to-back, I think it satisfies us [and] Kenta,” Roberts said. “I thought he was good tonight. … To go out there and take down a couple hitters was a good thing.”

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Maeda has pitched on back-to-back nights three times in the past two postseasons, including a flat one-run, two-hit outing in the decisive ninth inning in Game 4 of last year’s World Series.

He encountered no such problems this weekend.

“I feel wholly prepared,” Maeda said. “I’m ready to go.”

Joe Kelly still sore

Roberts remained vague when asked on Sunday about Kelly’s health.

Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 1.
Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 1.
(Getty Images)

“Overall body soreness,” Roberts said of the 31-year-old right-hander, who has pitched only 4⅓ innings in September. “There’s really nothing specific. ... He’s not sick. I expect Joe to be available sometime middle of next week.”

After initially describing Kelly’s ailment earlier this month as a leg issue, Roberts called it “total body” soreness Sunday. Roberts has acknowledged that if the problem doesn’t go away, it could potentially affect Kelly’s usage in the playoffs. However, the manager continues to sound optimistic that it won’t become a serious obstacle.

“His body doesn’t feel great,” Roberts said. “But he’ll be ready to go.”

Max Muncy expected back Tuesday

Infielder Max Muncy still wasn’t back in the Dodgers’ lineup Sunday as he nurses a quadriceps injury he suffered Friday night. “Even coming out of the box, you can reaggravate it,” Roberts said. “I just want to make sure, where we’re at on the calendar, we got to be smart.” Muncy was on the field early Sunday morning, running back and forth across the outfield to test his quads. Roberts said he is planning on Muncy to return to the lineup Tuesday, when the Dodgers open a three-game series at San Diego.


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