Dodgers to lean on durable Maeda in Game 3

Dodgers to lean on durable Maeda in Game 3

WASHINGTON -- Kenta Maeda has been the Dodgers' most dependable starting pitcher in 2016 -- a statement doused in irony, given the way his year began.

After all, it was Maeda, upon agreeing to sign with the Dodgers, whose physical came back with red flags -- or "irregularities," as he called them at the time. Concerned with his long-term durability, the Dodgers signed the Japanese right-hander to an incentive-laden eight-year deal with only $25 million guaranteed.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

Then, the season began, and the rest of the Dodgers rotation dropped like flies. Fifteen different pitchers made starts for Los Angeles in 2016, but Maeda didn't miss any, hitting a number of those incentives along the way.

Now, after the Dodgers dropped Game 2 to the Nationals, 5-2, on Sunday, Maeda will make the team's biggest start of the season on Monday -- Game 3 of the National League Division Series against Washington (4 p.m. ET/1 PT on MLBN) with the series tied at one game apiece.

"You talk about the medical when we signed him, and the uncertainty of how many innings he could give us this season," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "He's been the one stalwart in the rotation. He's probably 165 pounds dripping wet, but this guy is the ultimate competitor -- he really is. So to give us that consistency ... really has been huge."

If Corey Seager hadn't established himself as the favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Maeda would likely be at the forefront of the discussion. He's on the rookie leaderboard in just about every pitching category, including ERA (first), innings (first), strikeouts (second) and batting average against (first).

Maeda on pitching since Japan

Of course, the 28-year-old Maeda isn't your average rookie, given his eight seasons of experience pitching for Hiroshima in the Japanese League. Among all those numbers, the one Maeda appears to be most proud of is 32 -- as in the number of starts he made this year.

"It was an honor, and I was happy that I was able to pitch throughout the whole season," Maeda said through an interpreter. "Especially this year with a lot of injuries, there was no time for me to afford missing starts."

Saturday's postponement threw a bit of a wrench into Maeda's plans. After speaking with the media prior to Sunday's Game 2, Maeda boarded a flight back to Los Angeles to prepare for his start on Monday.

Maeda, who has neither pitched in the postseason nor against the Nationals, says he'll be looking to limit the emotions and maintain his trademark consistency.

Dodgers postseason gear

"In terms of how I've been preparing and thinking throughout my preparation, it hasn't changed," Maeda said. "But I'm sure that when I stand on the mound tomorrow, I'm sure there's going to be more excitement and pressure. So that's something I'm going to have to learn to control."

Save for his last start of the season in San Francisco, Maeda has been the picture of consistency during the second half. He went through an 11-start stretch in which he allowed no more than three runs and no fewer than one, while pitching at least five innings, though he never reached seven.

Those aren't Cy Young-caliber performances by any stretch. But Maeda has consistently put the Dodgers in position to win. Given the success of their bullpen, they've capitalized more often than not.

"Kenta is a great human, and a great competitor," Roberts said. "I think that you look at the season that he had -- and what a special season it was. To go through the adjustments that he had to make for himself on the baseball side, the family -- there's a lot of things that we really can't appreciate the adjustment that he's had to make."

Asked to describe Maeda's consistency this year, catcher Yasmani Grandal began listing several of his outings from the summer.

There was the time he was struck by a line drive in his pitching hand against the Mets in May: five innings, no runs. There was the time he pitched in the unbearable St. Louis humidity in July, allowing two runs over 5 2/3 innings. That list goes on on and on, with similar challenges facing Maeda and similar pitching lines.

"Kenta has been great," Grandal said. "There's nothing else you could ask for. ... He's been really good for us the whole year, and hopefully he continues to be good throughout the postseason. Being the first postseason he's ever been in in the Major Leagues, I feel like it's going to be fun for him."

AJ Cassavell is in his sixth season as a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.