Maeda in America: 4-start debut is best ever

April 24th, 2016

DENVER -- At sea level, a Mile High and on either side of the Pacific Ocean, Kenta Maeda can pitch.

Maeda completed his first time through the NL West Saturday night with a start nobody could expect for a Coors Field debut. He had a no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings, deftly eluded a bases-loaded jam and racked up career win No. 100 (97 in Japan) as the Dodgers beat the Rockies, 4-1.

"Phenomenal," said A.J. Ellis, who not only caught Maeda but slugged a two-run homer and scored twice.

"First time in this environment, first time pitching in Coors Field, first time pitching against the offensive firepower they have over there. Can't say enough of what Kenta was able to do tonight. Beyond impressive."

Maeda -- with the game televised live in Japan on Sunday morning -- etched his name his the history books, too. Maeda is the first pitcher since at least 1913 to introduce himself to big league fans by allowing only one total run over his first four games, all as a starter.

He struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings and made it look easier than it is to pitch in Denver.

Since 1913, 76 pitchers have begun their careers with four consecutive quality starts, but Maeda is the only one to allow only one earned run. Dave Ferriss of the 1945 Red Sox allowed two runs; Wayne Simpson of the 1970 Reds allowed two runs; Stu Miller of the 1952 Cardinals allowed three runs and Steve Rogers of the 1973 Expos allowed three runs.

The numbers are impressive regardless of age, but it's important to note that Maeda is 28 years old. Simpson was 21 during his rookie season, Ferriss and Rogers were 23, while Miller was 24.

"Everybody's natural inclination was maybe a slight regression because of the factors of pitching here and his reliance on spin," said Ellis. "But he was able to combat that. He used more changeups, which are easier to command in this environment. The guy knows how to pitch, knows how to win, he understands himself out there which is really great."

Maeda (3-0), signed in the offseason to an eight-year deal that required incentives because of health concerns, might be in for a different experience the next time he faces them, but he's come away from starts against the Dodgers' four division rivals with a league-leading ERA of 0.36.

"Overall I thought I had good command of my fastball and I was able to attack hitters early with the fastball," said Maeda. "I was told the ball flies further here. What I tried to do was control my game, pitch the way I usually pitch and that's what happened today."

Defensively, Maeda appreciated a tumbling, circus catch by left fielder Enrique Hernandez on a drive deep into the gap by Tony Wolters to end the bottom of the fifth inning, only two pitches after Hernandez was brought in a few steps.

"That was a huge play," said Maeda. "Two outs and if he doesn't catch that ball runners are in scoring position."

Manager Dave Roberts complimented Maeda's fastball command and noted that the pitcher was able to make a quick adjustment when his breaking pitches weren't breaking enough in the first inning.

Ellis elaborated.

"A couple sliders to Trevor Story in the first inning didn't have the typical break, but he tightened it up against the rest of the righties," said Ellis. "The slider came along, but I thought the changeup was a dynamic pitch for him." Maeda got Nolan Arenado to pop up on a change-up with one out in the sixth after three consecutive singles loaded the bases.

"I had a four-run lead and trusted A.J.'s demand for certain pitches and I executed," Maeda said.

"Arenado was a big at-bat," Ellis said. "I wanted to limit the damage, go with his strengths against his weaknesses and you're almost resigned to the fact they're going to score. That's a tough guy to keep in the infield. He got ahead with the sharpest curve he threw, got to 0-2, change eye level with a fastball up to 1-2 and I asked him to throw the only change-up right-on-right and he caught a tremendous hitter out front and got a popup."