The Dodgers needed a starter to pitch deep into a game… so Kenta Maeda delivered.
Maeda threw seven innings of two-hit ball and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the San Diego Padres 3-1 on Sunday afternoon to win the final series before the All-Star Break.
"For our guys we stayed focused on winning each game. We didn't concern ourselves with players who were hurt or what people were saying about us," said Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts on the first half of the season. "There was a couple stretches where we could have gone the other way, but we didn't. That was very encouraging."
Maeda (8-6) was amazing in easily his best MLB start as he allowed just one run on two hits with a career-high 13 strikeouts in seven superb innings.
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"I was able to command all my pitches, especially the slider," Maeda said through an interpreter of his his success with the strikeout. "I was able to manipulate my slider so that it looked like a strike, but it was really a ball."
Maeda fell one punchout shy of teammate Clayton Kershaw's season record of 14, and was the first Dodger starting pitcher since Kershaw to pitch into the seventh inning since June 20th.
"The past two games we used our relief pitchers a lot so I wanted to give them some time off," Maeda said of matching his career-long of seven innings. "The responsibility of a starting pitcher is to go deep into the game and I was happy I was able to do that."
His manager agreed.
"We needed that. For his psyche and our starters' psyche just go to into the break like that is big," Roberts said of one of his starting pitcher able to go deep into the game. "Overall, Maeda's had a great first half."
The Dodgers got off to a hot start when second baseman Howie Kendrick hit a leadoff double. One batter later, Corey Seager singled him home and LA had a 1-0 lead.
Kendrick kept the pressure on the Padres when he knocked in a run with a line drive single to left field in the second inning that scored Scott Van Slyke. In all, Kendrick finished 3-for-4 with a double, RBI and run scored.
"The last month he's been very good," Roberts said of Kendrick. "He's using all sides of the field. If we can get Howie and his versatility going offensively it will continue to add to that length."
Both team's hit alternating solo shots in the fifth inning for the final runs of the game. Maeda made his one and only mistake to San Diego catcher Derek Norris as his first-pitch curveball was belt high and hit a mile (421 feet) by Norris to left field.
"I gave him a curveball that hit the fat part of the plate," Maeda said of the mistake. "Thankfully it didn't change the outcome of the game and I was able to get back to work after that."
He did, striking out the next six batters he faced between the fiifth and sixth innings, as Adrian Gonzalez answered right back in the bottom half of the inning.
Gonzalez hit a solo blast to left field that just barely cleared the wall and Alex Dickerson's glove as it bounced off the top and out to give the Dodgers a commanding 3-1 lead.
"I actually thought he [Dickerson] caught it," Gonzalez said. "When I was running the bases I still thought he had it in his glove. Thankfully it got enough carry to get out."
Since he sat out back-to-back games in Pittsburgh (June 26-27), Gonazalez is batting .455 with six doubles, a home run and 11 RBI.
"Those days off weren't because I was tired, it was because I needed to work on mechanics," Gonazleaz said of his days off in Pittsburgh. "I need to be the hitter I need to be to help this team. When you know that your mind isn't right because your mechanic isn't right, you can't help the team when you're just making outs."
San Diego starter Christian Friedrich served up the home run to Gonzalez and exited the game shortly thereafter as he allowed three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts in five innings of work.
Joe Blanton and Kenley Jansen each pitched a scoreless inning for relief with the Dodgers' All-Star closer earning his 27th save of the season.
"Our bullpen has been great, our offense is taking off and we're 11 games over .500," said Dodgers' catcher Yasmani Grandal who went 2-for-4 on the day. "If we win another 51 games that will be 102 on the season, and that's pretty good."
Players of the Game:
Adrian Gonzalez: Solo Home Run
Howie Kendrick: 3-for-4 with a double, RBI, and run scored
Derek Norris: Solo home run
1. The Future Looks Bright: Two Dodger prospects, second baseman Willie Calhoun (Tulsa Drillers) and pitcher Jharel Cotton (OKC) will play in the 2016 All-Star Futures game at Petco Park in San Diego on Sunday. In total, six Dodger prospects made the Baseball America's Midseason Top 100 prospects list.
2. Going Deep: Kenta Maeda threw seven strong innings on Sunday becoming the first Dodger starter to complete seven innings since Clayton Kershaw did it on June 20th. Maeda heads into the break with a record of 8-6, the third most wins by a Dodger rookie starter ad the All-Star Break, tied with Rick Sutcliffe (1979) and Don Sutton (1966).
3. Sanshin: That's Japanese for "strikeout," something Dodger starter Kenta Meada knows all about after he punched out 13 Padres hitters on Sunday. Maeda's 13 strikeouts were the second highest by a Dodger starter this season, second behind only Clayton Kershaw. It was also the most by a Dodger rookie since Hideo Nomo in 1995.
Maeda not only has 13 strikeouts, he has fanned six batters in a row. — Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) July 10, 2016
Padres (38-51): San Diego returns home where their city will play host to the 2016 All-Star Game.
Dodgers (51-40): Los Angeles heads on a five-day break for the All-Star Game before opening a three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday.