Dodgers can’t save Maeda’s strong start
By Jon Weisman
Dave Roberts preached faith in the Dodger bullpen after its latest tough outing.
For the third time in the past four games, Dodger relievers surrendered a lead, with Pedro Baez and Chris Hatcher each allowing home runs in a 4-2 loss today to Arizona in the Dodger Stadium home opener (recapped by MLB.com).
With his team at 4-4 after eight games, Roberts said it was too early to contemplate changes to the bullpen.
“Right now, you want to give these guys confidence and give them opportunities,” he said. “I expect to be ahead in a lot of games late, and we’re gonna need ’em, if we want to have a great season. So for me, it’s way too early to think about changing the roles.
“You’re seeing certain pitches that aren’t being executed, and over a certain time if that continues, then you’ve got to kind of entertain (changes). But right now, we’re just way too early.”
Nick Ahmed became the second position player batting ninth to homer off the Dodgers in the past three games, popping a 349-foot homer off Baez, who was looking to protect a 1-0 lead for Kenta Maeda. Only three homers had been shorter in MLB this season.
“The pitch that Petey threw to Ahmed,” Roberts said, “that was a 1-2 change that was down — it almost seemed like A.J. (Ellis) was getting ready to block the ball … and he hit a homer.”
The tiebreaking homer in the eighth had a more logical length and source — familiar side-thorn Paul Goldschmidt, who blasted a 3-0 fastball from Hatcher 425 feet to center. Dodger relievers have now allowed five homers in their first 21 1/3 innings this season.
According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, the homer was also the first of Goldschmidt’s career on a 3-0 count.
“He’s not trying to throw a fastball center-cut,” Roberts said of Hatcher. “It kind of ran back over, and it was thigh-high.
“It’s a long season, and there are going to be ups and downs and guys are gonna struggle. … Right now, these guys aren’t throwing the ball as well as they’d like to or we’d like ’em to. But they’d be the first to say that.”
Two more runs scored in the ninth off Louis Coleman, putting the Dodgers in a bigger hole as they hoped to salvage another pleasing start from Maeda.
One day after turning 28, Maeda hit the first batter he faced and gave up a loud double to the last, but still pitched his second straight game of six shutout innings with four strikeouts.
He was at his best beginning in the second inning, when he induced three straight outs after putting runners on second and third with none out. That launched a streak in which he retired 11 straight batters (Howie Kendrick error notwithstanding), and his only baserunner of the fifth was retired on a caught stealing with Goldschmidt at the plate.
In Maeda’s final inning, with Wellington Castillo on first and two out in the top of the sixth, Jake Lamb lashed a double down the right-field line. Yasiel Puig corraled it, fired to third baseman Justin Turner (who was in right field on a shift), and Turner relayed home to Ellis for a putout.
“Another great start by Kenta,” Roberts said. “He just can do a lot of different things, has a lot of different weapons. He competes, and actually can hit a little bit. But after six innings right there, I felt that he was stressed a little earlier, and then in that inning there was some stress and I felt that was a good time to get him out and go to the pen and give Petey a clean inning.
According to Elias, Maeda is the third Dodger pitcher to begin his career with two scoreless starts, following fellow K-men Karl Spooner and Kazuhisa Ishii. Only three Los Angeles Dodger pitchers have begun with more consecutive scoreless innings than Maeda’s 12: Dave Stewart (18 1/3), Bob Welch (15 1/3) and Pedro Astacio (14).
“Kenta’s a really bright guy, and he’s continuing to gather information,” Roberts said. “And actually, there were some times where he shook A.J., which is good. That’s kind of a sign that he’s starting to learn the hitters and learn their swings.”
The Dodgers scored first on a pair of singles (including Kendrick in his first at-bat of 2016) and Ellis’ perfect squeeze bunt. That was mostly it for the offense, save for two hits apiece by reserve outfielders Kiké Hernandez and Trayce Thompson, and this natty bit of hand jive at second base by Puig.
Corey Seager extended his hitting streak (dating back to last season) to 11 games with a ninth-inning leadoff double, and came around to score on two infield outs, but that was all for Los Angeles on this day.