He bared his teeth as he bore down on third base, but Corey Seager was not smiling. The exertion stretched his face into a grimace. Seager does not possess upscale speed, but he emptied his tank in chugging from first to third in the fifth inning of a 5-3 Dodgers victory over Philadelphia.
After leading with a walk, Seager gambled on his legs versus the arm of center fielder Odubel Herrera. When Adrian Gonzalez singled up the middle, Seager barreled past second base and dove into third. The extra 90 feet proved critical. He scored the go-ahead run in the next at-bat, when Yasmani Grandal lifted a sacrifice fly.
Listless for much of April, the Dodgers offense requires hustle. Seager and Justin Turner are the only consistent performers. Gonzalez has yet to supply power. Injuries have sidelined Logan Forsythe and Joc Pederson. Thus the Dodgers (12-12) must scrape by, hopeful that this month will be an aberration, not a harbinger.
On Friday, they triumphed after scoring runs on a wild pitch and a double by the No. 8 hitter. Turner delivered insurance with a two-run double in the sixth, which eased the tension for Kenta Maeda.
In his best outing of 2017, Maeda (2-2, 6.58 earned-run average) completed the seventh inning for the first time since July 10, 2016. He streamlined his delivery and implemented the usage of a cut fastball. He finished the evening with two runs allowed on eight hits. He struck out eight Phillies.
The Dodgers came home after a sluggish road trip in which they went 3-4 and fell below .500. The schedule titled back in their favor starting on Friday. The team plays nine games against the Phillies, the Giants and the Padres, which offered the club a chance to find its footing.
The game on Friday operated as something of an audition for Maeda. The team’s roster includes six starting pitchers. Alex Wood earned another opportunity to start after permitting only one hit in six innings against the Giants on Wednesday. Maeda could not rest on his performance in 2016 to save his spot.
Maeda looked lost last week in Arizona. The Diamondbacks launched four homers off him. Maeda appeared unable to keep his fastball low in the strike zone, which Roberts felt resulted from Maeda attempting to generate added velocity on the pitch.
The next morning, Roberts called Maeda and his interpreter, Will Ireton, into his office. Roberts outlined a series of suggestions. The organization, in essence, wanted Maeda to return to the style he utilized in Japan, while adding the cutter he experimented with this spring.
When he debuted in 2016, Maeda distinguished himself with a two-seam sinking fastball that clocked in the upper 80s in velocity burrowed into the lower half of the strike zone. He rotated between the sinker and a four-seam fastball that clocked in the low 90s. Maeda threw the four-seamer 27% of the time last April, while using two-seamers 17% of the time, according to pitch f/x data from Brooks Baseball. His two-seam usage shrunk as the season progressed, falling to 13% by year’s end.
In his first four starts this season, Maeda abandoned the sinker. He used the pitch only 5% of the time, while favoring the four-seam fastball 43% of the time. The ratio did not fit his strengths.
“He’s got to take full ownership of the pitches, and not totally rely on the catchers,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “Sometimes you get caught up in the scouting report, and not what you do best.”
On Friday, Maeda avoided trouble until the third inning. A one-out walk by catcher Cameron Rupp opened the door. Maeda left a fastball at the thighs of second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who roped a single. With runners at the corners, shortstop Freddy Galvis thumped a hanging curveball into the right-field corner. Two runs scored.
The Dodgers halved the deficit in the bottom of the inning. After singles by Andrew Toles and Justin Turner, Phillies pitcher Jerad Eickhoff lost a curveball in the dirt. Toles scooted home on the wild pitch.
An inning later, Cody Bellinger came to bat for only his second time at Dodger Stadium. The Phillies vacated the left side of the infield, confident in Bellinger’s propensity for pulling the baseball toward right field. Bellinger defused the shift by pushing a two-out bunt single toward first base.
The deftness from Bellinger soon proved lucrative. Up came Enrique Hernandez. He stung a fastball over the head of Phillies left fielder Aaron Altherr for a game-tying double.
In the fifth, Seager helped the Dodgers pull ahead. Maeda protected the lead without incident. He struck out two in the sixth. Roberts elected to send him back for the seventh.
The double by Turner aided Maeda’s cause. He did not waver. After a two-out double by Rupp, Maeda brushed aside pinch-hitter Ty Kelly. He buzzed a 92-mph fastball to finish his best night of 2017.