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Kenta Maeda is back on a starter’s path

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Dodgers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — Kenta Maeda pitched a pair of scoreless innings on Tuesday afternoon against the Rangers at Camelback Ranch in his 2018 Cactus League debut.

Maeda started 57 games for the Dodgers in his first two seasons to lead the team, but found uncommon success as a relief pitcher down the stretch and into the postseason. Maeda in 13 appearances out of the bullpen in 2017 had a 1.44 ERA with 20 strikeouts and three walks in 18⅔ innings.

A return to the bullpen might be in Maeda’s future, say in the postseason, but the plan at least for most of the season is for him to be a starter.

“It’s not that easy to find guys who can basically take the ball every fifth day and contribute the way he has,” Andrew Friedman said in November. “That being said, in the playoffs there was another gear and it was special coming out of the pen.”

In the postseason, right-handed batters were 4-for-33 (.121) with a home run, two walks and nine strikeouts.

“I’m sure there are going to be times when I’m going to need to channel that from when I was a reliever into my starts,” Maeda told Alanna Rizzo on SportsNet LA after his outing on Tuesday.

Maeda issued a leadoff walk to Rougned Odor, but he was quickly erased trying to steal. Maeda retired his other five batters faced with one strikeout.

Manager Dave Roberts thinks Maeda’s success as a reliever will carry over this season as a starter.

“With Kenta his ability to pitch out of the bullpen with success added to his confidence, knowing that he can do different things and pitch at a high level,” Roberts said. “Rick Honeycutt said something to me, how when he was a player and went to the bullpen how his routine changed, and it took less for him to get ready when he went back to being a starter.”

The best result

Perhaps most importantly on Tuesday, the Dodgers and Rangers ended in a tie, the ultimate spring training result. Down a run in the ninth, Henry Ramos walked with one out then moved to third base one out later on a single by Matt Beaty. Then with Tim Locastro at the plate Connor Sadzeck unleashed a wild pitch, allowing Ramos to score the equalizer.

Locastro flied out to end the ninth, and end the game.

It was the Dodgers’ first tie this spring. They have 27 more games to try to break the club record of eight ties, set in in 2015.

Damn right.

Up next

The Dodgers are back in Peoria on Wednesday, with Hyun-jin Ryu starting against the Padres at 12:10 p.m. PT. Dinelson Lamet starts for San Diego. No radio or TV on the Dodgers’ side, but the Fox Sports San Diego broadcast will be on MLBtv.