Kenta Maeda off to sensational start on mound for Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda delivers a pitch against the Colorado Rockies during the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 23, 2016, in Denver. The Dodgers won 4-1. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
DENVER — Kenta Maeda is pitching out of this world.
No surprise to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who jokingly said the right-hander from Japan could effectively throw ‘on the moon’ given his pinpoint control. Maeda just conquered the closest thing major league baseball has to a lunar start — Coors Field.
In his latest masterpiece, Maeda took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Colorado on Saturday before surrendering three hits and finishing with 6 1-3 scoreless innings.
The early results are certainly in: Maeda has been worth every penny the Dodgers spent in an eight-year deal that could be worth more than $106.2 million if he stays healthy. He’s allowed one run in 25 1-3 innings spanning four starts.
Maeda joins Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and George McQuillan (1907) as the only pitchers in the modern era to throw at least 25 innings in their first four starts and allow no more than one run, according to information provided by the Dodgers from Elias Sports Bureau.
‘He’s doing some special things,’ Roberts said. ‘We’re lucky to have him.’
Just when Roberts thinks Maeda can’t get any more precise with his command, he does. On Saturday night in Denver, Maeda was placing his pitches to perfection while striking out eight.
‘Best fastball command he’s had since I’ve seen him,’ Roberts said.
Maeda improved to 3-0 with an NL-best 0.36 ERA. It was also his 100th career victory in pro baseball after going 97-67 in eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Central League.
‘This guy knows how to pitch, knows how to win,’ catcher A.J. Ellis said. ‘He understands himself, which is really great.’
More specifically, he recognizes what’s working and what’s not. Maeda struggled with his breaking ball in the thin air Saturday and so he simply relied more on his changeup.
‘We’d never faced him before, so that made him a little more difficult,’ Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said.
Maeda is a little unorthodox in his delivery. By pausing at the top of his windup, he resembles his countryman Hideo Nomo. Maeda was cruising along until one out in the sixth when DJ LeMahieu singled for Colorado’s first hit.
Coincidentally, Nomo remains the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter at Coors Field, on Sept. 17, 1996.
‘I wasn’t too concerned with the no-hitter ending,’ Maeda said through a translator. ‘I thought I had pretty good command of my fastball. I was able to attack the hitters early with my fastball.’
A quick recap of what the 28-year-old Maeda has accomplished this season: six scoreless innings in his Dodgers debut at San Diego — he also hit a home run in that game — and then six more scoreless innings against Arizona. He finally yielded a run in seven innings against San Francisco before baffling the Rockies.
Not bad for his first time at Coors Field.
‘This is as close as you’re going to get to the moon in the big leagues,’ Roberts said. ‘It’s about fastball command — in and out, up and down and changing speeds. It was like he just executed as good as I’ve seen him.’
And to think the Dodgers had some concerns about his health.
Maeda signed the $25 million, eight-year contract in January and acknowledged that his physical revealed unspecified ‘irregularities.’ If Maeda is on the Dodgers’ opening-day roster each season and makes 32 starts and pitches 200 innings each year, he would receive the full $106.2 million. He would earn $150,000 annually for being on the 25-man opening-day active roster.
‘You look at this sample of four games, (Maeda) has obviously exceeded every expectation we’ve had,’ Roberts said.
AP sports writer Beth Harris and freelancer Monica Costello contributed.