LOS ANGELES -- Whatever happens between now and the July 31 Trade Deadline, Dodgers fans probably got a glimpse of the October bullpen on Friday night when Kenta Maeda pitched in relief.
In his first non-start of the year, the reluctant reliever threw a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts, following seven strong innings from Hyun-Jin Ryu (11-2) as the Dodgers edged the Marlins, 2-1, with Kenley Jansen rebounding from Tuesday night’s setback to strike out the side in the ninth inning for his 24th save.
While the Dodgers are rumored to be “in” on every available -- and unavailable -- big-name reliever, history shows a reluctance to part with the king’s ransom of top prospects they are likely to cost.
Re-enter Maeda. Management made him a reliever for the 2017 and ‘18 postseasons, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pitching high-leverage innings out of the bullpen this October, although nobody with the club comes right out and says that in July.
“I know that we view him as a starter. He views himself as a starter,” said manager Dave Roberts. “But for him to give us one or two innings, it was electric, it really was. You saw some 94s [mph] there, the slider was really on point.”
This bullpen cameo for Maeda was “premeditated,” as Roberts put it, because Maeda’s last start was cut short at two innings because of a long rain delay Wednesday night in Philadelphia. The one-inning appearance served as a substitute for Maeda’s normal between-starts bullpen session. He will start on Tuesday.
Roberts unleashed him against the middle of the Marlins order, all right-handed hitters. He threw 12 pitches, 10 strikes, one fastball and the rest sliders. Right-handed hitters are batting .141 off Maeda this year.
“I was facing young players and they were behind one run, so I went with my gut feeling that they were going to keep swinging at those pitches, and they actually did,” said Maeda.
“Kenta was awesome,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.
Chances are Maeda will continue to start at least into August. But with Joe Kelly having turned his season around and Maeda a possible setup addition, the Dodgers then will need to decide whether they are better served with Julio Urias starting or relieving.
That’s why some scouts speculate that the Dodgers might find it easier to acquire a mid-level starter at the Trade Deadline rather than a reliever, freeing up Maeda or Urias or both for relief.
Regardless of who is setting up, Roberts seemed to make it clear Friday night that even if fans are quick to give up on Jansen as the closer, the manager isn’t.
“To see Kenley come back tonight and throw the baseball the way he did also was very encouraging,” said Roberts.
When last seen, Jansen let a two-run lead get away in the ninth inning in Philadelphia and afterward blamed himself for staying in the game despite a foot numbed by a comebacker.
Catcher Russell Martin said Jansen’s willingness to mix in different pitches made a difference as he fanned Harold Ramirez, Jorge Alfaro and Neil Walker. Jansen threw five two-seam fastballs and two sliders along with eight cutters.
“That two-seamer is going to be an equalizer,” said Martin. “Mixed some sliders in there and the two-seamer will be a huge plus for him.”
Over the final three innings, Ryu, Maeda and Jansen struck out eight of the nine batters faced.