LOS ANGELES -- Kenta Maeda knows it's challenging enough for a one-way Japanese star to make it in the Major Leagues, so he can only imagine what countryman Shohei Ohtani is in for as a combination pitcher/hitter with the Angels."As a Japanese player, I'm excited to see what he can
LOS ANGELES -- Kenta Maeda knows it's challenging enough for a one-way Japanese star to make it in the Major Leagues, so he can only imagine what countryman Shohei Ohtani is in for as a combination pitcher/hitter with the Angels.
"As a Japanese player, I'm excited to see what he can do and very much rooting for him to perform well so other Japanese players will be able to play here," said Maeda, returning for his third season in the Dodgers' starting rotation.
"I believe it's a very difficult thing to do. Physically, it's going to be a very tough thing to do, especially since he'll be doing hitting as well as pitching. He'll have to adjust as a pitcher and to a new schedule that is very different than in Japan. From a Japanese fan's point of view, people would love to see his two-way ability."
• Watch Maeda scare the daylights out of his translator
The 29-year-old Maeda, who has a .125 batting average in two Major League seasons, said he'll stick with pitching. And he emphasized that he's a starter again, even though his impressive transition to the bullpen for last year's postseason raised speculation that the move could become permanent.
"I'm happy to be back in the rotation," said Maeda, who allowed one run in 10 2/3 relief innings in the postseason. "It's something I want to do, to start the game. I feel like pitching out of the bullpen in the playoffs was a great experience. I enjoyed playing in the World Series for the first time."
In two seasons since signing with the Dodgers, Maeda is 29-17 with a 3.80 ERA. He has made 57 starts and pitched 310 regular-season innings, second on the club to Clayton Kershaw during that span. Maeda's incentive-laden contract (which runs through 2023) was constructed with only starting in mind, so a shift to the bullpen could cost Maeda millions of dollars unless the contract was modified.
With or without a return of free agent Yu Darvish, Dodgers management needs Maeda in the rotation. But it's very possible he could return to the bullpen in the postseason.
"Kenta has been a very underrated and underappreciated part of our success," said general manager Farhan Zaidi. "He's won 29 games in two seasons, and the role he served in the postseason out of the bullpen -- the unselfishness was huge in the postseason. He wants to win another 15 games and he'll do whatever we need in the postseason. He's a huge part of our team, no question about it."
With Spring Training less than two weeks away, Maeda said he's ready to turn the page after last season's sour ending.
"It's something that lingers around, but being in Japan helps to overcome and move on," he said. "My mindset becomes, 'I'm just looking forward to the next year.'"
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.