Kenta Maeda continued his underrated, steady season on Friday, allowing a run in five innings in a win over the Diamondbacks.
On a Dodgers team that has placed eight starting pitchers on the disabled list in 2016, go figure that the rock of the rotation would be Maeda, who had so many health concerns as a free agent that he signed one of the most club-friendly contracts of all time, one that guaranteed only $25 million over eight years, but with $81.2 million more in incentives over the life of the deal.
Maeda hasn’t been a workhorse by any means, averaging 5.66 innings per start. But he has been relatively steady, lasting at least five innings all but three times, something that was very much needed by the Dodgers, especially when Clayton Kershaw was sidelined. Plus, there is something to be said for answering the bell every time out, wihich Maeda has done.
Now at 164 innings on the season, Maeda is guaranteed to qualify for the ERA title — these days, that means at least one inning per team game -- which may not seem like a big deal except that Maeda will be the only Dodgers pitcher to do so in 2016.
Never before have the Dodgers had just one pitcher qualify for the ERA title. The fewest is two pitchers, which they have done eight times, last in 2007.
Kershaw, who averaged 222 innings from 2010-2015 and led the majors in innings last season, has just 129 innings this season with three starts remaining. He was leading the majors in innings after his June 26 start, before landing on the disabled list for 10 weeks with a herniated disc in his back.
With three starts left, Maeda has a good chance to reach 180 innings. The fewest innings by a Dodgers leader in any one season is 170, by Ramon Martinez in 1994, a season that saw 48 games canceled by the strike. In a full season, the fewest innings by a Dodgers league leader is 185, by Kirby Higbe in 1943, during World War II.
Since World War II, the only seasons that saw a Dodgers team without a 200-inning pitcher were 1981 and 1994, both strike years.
With his 164 innings in 2016, Maeda earned a $250,000 bonus on Friday for passing the 160-inning mark. To date this season, Maeda has earned $5.65 million of a possible $10.15 million in performance bonuses in addition to his $3 million base salary and $1 million signing bonus.
Maeda’s next start will be his 30th, triggering another $1.5 million bonus and, if he pitches at least six innings he will earn another $250,000 for reaching 170 innings.
Brock Stewart will get the call to start for the Dodgers on Saturday rather than Bud Norris. Manager Dave Roberts said Stewart was held back to be available in long relief if needed behind Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill on Wednesday and Thursday, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. Norris remains in the bullpen.
Shelby Miller starts on Saturday for the Diamondbacks in the 5:10 p.m. PT start.