TOKYO -- After three tournament games and one exhibition in Tokyo, the Japan All-Star Series will move to Hiroshima for a very brief visit, with just one game scheduled between the MLB All-Stars and Samurai Japan.But it's sure to create a spectacle, considering who will be the starting pitcher for
TOKYO -- After three tournament games and one exhibition in Tokyo, the Japan All-Star Series will move to Hiroshima for a very brief visit, with just one game scheduled between the MLB All-Stars and Samurai Japan.
But it's sure to create a spectacle, considering who will be the starting pitcher for the Major Leaguers.
For eight seasons from 2008-15, Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda was a star for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He's parlayed that success into an impressive three-year run with the Dodgers, and on Tuesday, he'll be reunited with old teammates and fans when he takes the mound at Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium.
The opportunity to return to his "home" ballpark was Maeda's main reason for agreeing to be a part of the Major League roster on this trip.
"I'll be very happy to be able to pitch at the stadium," Maeda said to a packed room of reporters at the Tokyo Dome on Sunday. "I have spent three years in the Major Leagues, and I would like to show all the fans my improvement of pitching."
Maeda, who was not with the MLB All-Stars to start the trip, began his career with the Toyo Carp in 2008 at age 20, and he spent the next eight years compiling a 97-67 record with a 2.39 ERA and a 1.048 WHIP over 1,509 2/3 career innings.
A 16-game winner in his rookie season for the Dodgers in 2016, Maeda has been a key part of three postseason teams. During the recently played World Series, he appeared in three games in relief, including throwing the 15th and 16th innings of the epic 18-inning Game 3 win over the Red Sox.
Only two weeks have passed since the decisive Game 5 that ended the Dodgers' quest for their first championship since 1988. That brief lull has allowed Maeda to stay somewhat in rhythm, in anticipation of his start in Hiroshima.
"Because our team was in the postseason, it was easy for us to condition ourselves," he said. "After the Series was over, I played catch and did all of the necessary workouts.
"I'll be in the bullpen [Sunday] and try to fine-tune my pitches to prepare for the big game on Tuesday."
The visit to Hiroshima will be the shortest of the trip. The traveling party will move on to Nagoya on Wednesday for a tournament-ending two-game set at the Nagoya Dome.
All of the games of the Japan All-Star Series have been well-attended so far, and capacity crowds are expected for the remainder of the series. Maeda's presence as the starting pitcher in Hiroshima on Tuesday won't be the sole reason for the expected sellout crowd, but it should enhance the experience for the fans who hold tickets for the game.
"It's been a little while since I've pitched in that stadium," Maeda said. "I want to show all my fans in Japan something that they would enjoy. I'll do my best to get as many hitters out as I can and have a good performance."
Maeda's cheering section will extend to the Major League dugout, where two of his teammates will have a front-row view of his homecoming. Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor, key members of both of the Dodgers' National League pennant-winning teams, are glad to share this experience with their pitching mate.
"I think one of the things I'm most excited about is seeing Kenta in his hometown, home stadium," Hernandez said. "It's going to be amazing. He's a hero here, and it's going to be fun to see what it's like to be here with him."
Added Taylor: "I'm excited to see the ovation he gets. I know the fans love him over here, and he was really good for that team for a long time. I think it's going to be fun for him to be able to pitch against old teammates and in front of his home crowd."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.