Maeda was cruising through the Pirates order, keeping them scoreless through eight innings. He had separate streaks of seven, nine, and seven straight batters retired.
At only 89 pitches, Maeda started the ninth inning, but a single by Josh Harrison followed by a Francisco Cervelli home run spoiled the shutout. Maeda remained in the game to strike out Andrew McCutchen but then was lifted, in what was the longest outing of his major league career.
Maeda struck out five, and induced 11 ground ball outs, the latter part of a concerted effort the last few weeks, including the introduction of a cut fastball to his repertoire to help keep the ball lower in the strike zone.
“The cut fastball is part of it. I still think it’s the fundamentals of having fastball command, throwing his secondaries whenever he wanted, being efficient, putting the baseball on the ground,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We talked about in his first three turns, there was a lot of fly balls.”
Maeda over his last three starts has a 2.21 ERA with 21 strikeouts and one home run allowed, after an 8.05 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven home runs allowed in his first four starts.
“Part of the reason I didn’t do well is that I relied too much on the four-seamer. I left it elevated, and hitters took advantage of that,” Maeda said. “Depending on certain hitters, it’s a good pitch to throw, but I’ve been relying on it too much. I’m not a power pitcher.”
What that means next for Maeda is up in the air. Rich Hill threw five scoreless innings without allowing a hit in his rehab start for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Wednesday — “Did he yell at [manager Drew] Saylor like he yelled at me?” Roberts joked, about another Dodgers organizational manager removing Hill from a no-hitter — and is in line to start next Tuesday in San Francisco.
Brandon McCarthy, currently on the disabled list, looked strong in a simulated game at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, and is in line to start Monday.
If Maeda is next to ride the rest train, he’s trying not to think about it.
“I try to keep those distractions out, and just focus on the pitching,” he said.
In 2016, Maeda was the only Dodgers starting pitcher to remain in the rotation all season, making all 32 starts. He didn’t sound too sure that taking a break in season would help him or not down the stretch.
“It’s hard to tell at this point. Looking back after the season, I’ll be able to tell,” Maeda said. “It’s up to me to make anything a positive. It’s what I try to do in any negative situation.”
The Dodgers head to Denver for a four-game weekend set, and will send Hyun-jin Ryu to the mound on Thursday, activating him from the disabled list to do so. The Rockies will counter with southpaw Tyler Anderson in the series opener, a 5:40 p.m. PT start.
Franklin Gutierrez would normally start against the southpaw, but with a sore hip he will sit in favor of Cody Bellinger in left on Thursday.
“His hip flexor is coming, but Denver is a big outfield. You’re at altitude,” Roberts explained. “I still like him in the batters box, but I want to make sure he’s not going to hurt himself playing defense, too.”
Gutierrez will still be available as a pinch hitter. Roberts also said he would use mostly his same lineup — including Chase Utley at first base — on Thursday, except that Austin Barnes would catch Ryu, giving Grandal a rest after the night game and flight.