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Kenta Maeda's Grade A, prime spring continues

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- New Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda already has one meal coming to him from manager Dave Roberts, and if he keeps pitching like he has in his first major league spring training, there should be more where that came from.

Maeda became the first Dodgers pitcher to record 16 outs this spring, pitching into the sixth inning against the Cincinnati Reds in his second-to-last desert outing. He gave up just one unearned run when he was in the game, but two runners he left on base also scored. He struck out five over his 5⅓ innings in the Dodgers' 7-6 loss.

“Overall, I feel good and the results are good too, so I am happy with the camp,” Maeda said through an interpreter.

A 1.89 ERA through 19 Cactus League innings is more than just “good,” as the Dodgers are feeling confident with their No. 3 starter. The right-hander is expected to make his regular-season debut on April 6 at San Diego, unless the Dodgers unexpectedly bump him up to the No. 2 spot.

“He is as good if not better than advertised,” Roberts said. “The way he prepares -- and his transition to this point -- has been seamless. The communication with the catchers and pitch execution, all that stuff has been a pleasure.”

The only concern on Sunday came when Maeda appeared to have an irritated finger on his right hand as he pitched his final inning. He confirmed afterward that it was just a piece of dead, flaky skin that was bothering him, not quite a formed blister.

“I never had any issue with the blisters,” Maeda said. “I never had one where it prevented me from throwing.”

With the kind of injury-filled camp the Dodgers are having, any sign of discomfort seems worth questioning.

The reality is that despite an offseason physical exam that led the club to restructure his eight-year contract, Maeda not only has been the rare Dodger with a clean bill of health, he also has been one of the most maintenance-free members of the roster.

And despite the language barrier, other Dodgers have enjoyed getting to know their new teammate. Roberts even had fun with Maeda in a recent batting practice session for pitchers, after the new guy seemed to have a penchant for hitting home runs.

At question was a bat that Maeda had been using, one that he brought with him from Japan. Roberts told Maeda that if he could hit a home run with a different bat in just five pitches, Roberts would buy Maeda dinner. Maeda grabbed the new bat and took Roberts deep on the first pitch.

He had a chance to bat in a Cactus League game for the first time on Sunday but didn’t get the opportunity to show off his power. Instead, he laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move over a runner.

If Maeda expressed any disappointment this spring, it was over the fact that he came out of the game before he could have his second at-bat.

Up next is a bullpen session on a practice mound in Arizona and then the trip to Los Angeles on Wednesday night. Maeda said he is excited to finally be able to settle into his new city.

As for that dinner Roberts owes him, does Maeda know what he wants to eat?

“Steak,” he said in perfect English, flashing a wide grin.

As Roberts said, “Here in spring training there is a lot going on, so we’re going to wait until during the season. I know the area, I know the landscape a little more, so I’m going to pick out a nice steakhouse for us.”