Dodgers News: Kenta Maeda Embracing ‘Being Relied Upon’ Despite Preference To Start

After exclusively pitching as a starter during his rookie campaign in 2016, Kenta Maeda appeared in four games out of the bullpen the following year and it wound up setting the tone as the Los Angeles Dodgers made a run to the World Series in each of the past two seasons.

Maeda spent nearly the entirety of the 2019 season as a member of the starting rotation before being converted to a relief role last week when Julio Urias returned from the restricted list. Urias made two starts and was expected to continue in that role but now himself is being moved back to the bullpen.

At the time of announcing Maeda was poised to finish out the season as a reliever, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said it was in preparation for high-leverage situations come October. Maeda has previously accepted the role change while maintaining his preference is to remain a starter.

That of still holds true but he continues to embrace the chance of playing a key role for the Dodgers in the postseason, according to J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group:

“Just being relied upon feels good,” Maeda said through his interpreter. “The nature of a playoff game, everyone’s going to be needed. Everyone’s going to contribute.”

While Roberts outlined a plan to utilize Maeda in late-game situations, both of his appearances since the change have been in a long relief role. He completed a four-inning save against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 2, and logged another four innings Sunday.

In both cases the right-hander has pitched with an aggressive mindset that hasn’t always been carried forward in starts. The Dodgers have regularly addressed the topic with Maeda, and Roberts has also noted appearing out of the bullpen naturally lends to an easier ability to immediately max-out.

Maeda’s ability to succeed and importance in leverage situations is much more imperative this year due to Kenley Jansen’s ongoing struggles. Maeda, Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly have been identified as candidates to close in the event Jansen is unavailable.

In 17 career relief appearances in the postseason, Maeda has held opponents to a .212/.268/.318 batting line and pitched to a 2.08 ERA with 20 strikeouts against five walks across 17.1 innings pitched.