Kenta Maeda's drive, durability translate to Dodger victories

Dylan Hernandez column on Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda

There isn't an English equivalent for the Japanese word mikaesu, at least not in the context it was used recently by Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.

Literally translated, it means look or stare back. In feeling, it's closer to "I'll show them."


Maeda, 28, was talking about what drove him this season, in which he had a  16-11 record with a 3.69 earned-run average. He also was the only Dodgers starting pitcher to remain in the injury-ravaged rotation for the entire 162-game schedule.

He will take the mound again Monday for the Dodgers in Game 3 of their National League division series against the Washington Nationals.

"I felt I had to leave results," Maeda said in Japanese.

He spoke of when he was in the process of moving to the major leagues last winter, how he didn't feel as if teams regarded him as highly as they did some of the other Japanese players who made similar moves in recent years.

And then there was the infamous physical examination. Medical experts consulted by the Dodgers found something "irregular" — the problem was believed to be with his elbow — which forced him to settle for an eight-year contract that guaranteed him a below-market $25 million.

But if Maeda was motivated by the perceived slights, it was a special workout program designed by Homare Watanabe that helped him pitch once every five days, as opposed to every seven days as he did in Japan.

"It changes completely," said Watanabe, former trainer of the Japanese league's Yokohama BayStars. "In Japan, you have six days between starts. When you have only four days, eliminating fatigue becomes the main priority."

Major league pitchers often work out hard the day immediately after their starts, something that would be unthinkable in Japan.

"In Japan, the second day after a start is completely off," Watanabe said. "Pitchers don't even have to go to the stadium. The third day after a start is the hardest training day."

The Dodgers helped by providing Maeda with an extra day of rest whenever possible.

Maeda insisted on hiring a Japanese personal trainer primarily because he wanted to continue to incorporate massages to quicken his recovery, as is customary in his homeland.

Maeda also had to build the necessary strength to withstand the major league schedule, which not only offers fewer days between starts but is also longer by 16 games. His training program utilized light weights and was designed to strengthen the body without compromising agility.

The idea of baseball players working out with weights is a relatively new concept in Japan, with Maeda saying the idea was introduced to him several years ago by Yu Darvish, his countryman who pitches for the Texas Rangers.

Ichiro Suzuki disapproves of the practice, famously telling a Japanese television this spring, "You can't alter the balance you were born with. Tigers and lions don't lift weights."


Watanabe said Maeda is philosophically closer to Suzuki than he is to Darvish, who has added muscle by lifting heavy weights.

The program worked.

"The fact I was able to stay in the rotation the entire season and win 16 games was satisfying," Maeda said.

The same was true for Watanabe. To experience major league baseball, he has to be apart from his wife and three sons, who remain in Japan.

"How he's made it through the season without any injuries is a point of pride for me," Watanabe said.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez