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Kenta Maeda & the number 1

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It seems fitting that the Dodgers have Kenta Maeda starting on the mound in Game 1 of their series against the Brewers. It is also Game 1 of the homestand, which is the shortest of the season at Dodger Stadium, just one series long.

It all started with this tweet from MLB vice president of communications Mike Teevan on Monday:

MLB Network expanded on that with even more stats:

Maeda also has one intentional walk on the season, and one loss in his one game against the Brewers.

That game was on June 4 in Milwaukee, a 3-0 loss. Maeda struck out seven and allowed just two runs on two hits and three walks, but with 92 pitches he was done after just four innings.

Since then the right-hander has a 2.75 ERA with 58 strikeouts and 10 walks in 59 innings.

But Maeda’s turnaround came much earlier in the season, and it happened with Maeda moving away from the number one.

In his first four starts of the season, Maeda had an 8.05 ERA, allowing seven home runs in 19 innings, to go with 17 runs on 24 hits. He threw his four-seam fastball 38.71 percent of the time in those starts, per Brooks Baseball, with batters hitting .333 (11-for-33) with three home runs against the pitch.

After that, Maeda started using a cutter to give him another option to keep hitters off balance. On the season, Maeda’s average four-seam fastball is 92.21 mph, compared to 90.43 for his sinker and his 86.15-mph cutter.

Starting with his April 28 start, Maeda has thrown his cutter nearly as often (29.13 percent) as his four-seam fastball (30.22 percent), and the results have shown. He has a 3.02 ERA in his last 18 games, including 16 starts, with 92 strikeouts and 22 walks in 92 innings, plus only nine home runs allowed, just two more than he gave up in those first four outings.

Kenta Maeda 2017 pitch mix

When Fastball% Cutter% IP HR BB K ERA
When Fastball% Cutter% IP HR BB K ERA
First 4 starts 38.71% 0.65% 19 7 5 19 8.05
Last 18 games 30.22% 29.13% 92⅓ 9 22 92 3.02
Source: Brooks Baseball and Baseball-Reference

Maeda only threw two cutters in is first four starts of the season, compared with 120 fastballs. He explained the change in his repertoire in May, chronicled by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

“I changed my mentality a little bit in terms of pitching,” Maeda said. “The biggest thing, though was I started throwing my cutter more. It increased my weapons to attack hitters.

“I think I was relying too much on my four-seamer, throwing it hard and not focusing enough on getting hitters out quickly. I think, looking back, I’m now relying on moving the ball more and making sure I’m more efficient. … I’ve come to realize I am not a power pitcher.”

The better pitch mix has made Maeda’s number one even more effective. Since those first four starts, batters are hitting .172 (17-for-99) against his fastball with 34 strikeouts and a .273 slugging percentage.