Maeda money: Righty peaks at right time

Maeda money: Righty peaks at right time

LOS ANGELES -- Kenta Maeda pitched a gem in Wednesday night's 5-2 Dodgers win over the Pirates, just missing a shutout and then a complete game. He pitched so well, in fact, maybe he'll get to stay in the starting rotation.

Or maybe not, as Rich Hill also tossed a gem in his rehab start for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, five hitless innings and 68 pitches without apparent blister issues. After that effort, he surely feels ready to return from the disabled list.

That rotation, by the way, is about to become very crowded. Hyun-Jin Ryu returns from the DL Thursday night, and earlier Wednesday Brandon McCarthy pitched so well in a simulated game that manager Dave Roberts said McCarthy will return from the DL and start on Monday night in San Francisco.

Add to them Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Julio Urias and Roberts has seven healthy starters for five slots.

It is no coincidence that Hill's rehab start was pushed back one day to coincide with Maeda's start. Nor is it necessarily a coincidence that Roberts, who has had Maeda on a short leash since he arrived last year, allowed the right-hander to pitch into the ninth inning for the first time in his Dodgers career, throwing 104 pitches.

All are signs that Maeda could be headed for a timely 10-day vacation of some sort, but they are signs Maeda is ignoring.

"I try to keep those distractions out and try to focus on the pitching today," said Maeda, who scattered three hits until the ninth inning, when he allowed a two-run homer to Francisco Cervelli and was removed from the game one out later, having struck out five without a walk.

"It's up to me to make anything into a positive," he said. "That's what I try to do in any negative situation."

For example, Maeda used early season reliance on the four-seam fastball into motivation to turn a Spring Training experimental cut fastball into a useful part of his arsenal over the past three starts, during which he's gone 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA while holding opponents to a .181 batting average.

"The reasons I didn't do well, I was relying too much on the four-seamer and it was elevated and hitters took advantage of that," he said. "The cutter induces ground balls, and that's what I was able to do today. In general, I'm keeping my pitches low. The four-seamer is a good pitch to throw, but not to rely on it. I'm not a power pitcher. I need to keep my pitches low."

Maeda's 8 1/3 innings were his Major League best, one start after he lasted only five-plus innings in San Diego.

"His last two turns have been really good, and he was efficient, pounding the strike zone. The secondary pitches were really good. He was using all the quadrants," Roberts said. "You get to a certain point where you have to win the game and I didn't want him to have a sour taste after a brilliant outing."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.