LOS ANGELES — Six years after representing the Colorado Rockies in the All-Star Futures game, left-hander Christian Friedrich continues his campaign to rebuild his career when his San Diego Padres face the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday at Dodger Stadium.
Friedrich's opponent, right-hander Kenta Maeda, seeks to resurrect his own season after a brilliant April following a stellar career in Japan.
Friedrich — who turned 29 on Friday — threw only three pitches and retired the only batter he faced for the United States in a 9-1 victory over the World at Angel Stadium. Merely making that team, however, reflected Friedrich's potential as a major leaguer.
However, he never gained a foothold with the Rockies. In 2012, Friedrich went 5-8 as a rookie starter before a stress fracture in his lower back ended his season and limited him to just four appearances in 2013. The Rockies tried making Friedrich a reliever but he went 0-8 the past two years.
The Los Angeles Angels claimed Friedrich on waivers in February but sent him back to the Rockies, who released him. The Padres signed the left-hander as a free agent in March. Since entering the rotation May 13, Friedrich started 3-1 but has lost three of his past four decisions.
Nevertheless, Friedrich showed flashes of his potential June 23, when he used his slider to retire the first nine batters in a start against the Baltimore Orioles before suffering a 12-6 loss.
“I think it's always been one of my better pitches, especially as an out pitch,” Friedrich told MLB.com. “But when we're mixing and matching all of the other pitches, it definitely makes it a little bit better.”
Maeda, meanwhile, seeks just his fifth victory since beginning his major league career with four quality starts in his first four appearances. During that stretch, Maeda compiled a 3-0 record while allowing just one earned run in 25 1/3 innings.
Since then, however, Maeda lost his next three decisions before winning three of his ensuing four. In his last start Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles, the 28-year-old rookie allowed four runs, seven hits and three walks in four innings to take his second defeat in his previous three decisions.
“When he has had good outings and gone deeper, obviously, the mix is good,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Daily News after that 4-1 loss. “But you've got to make major league hitters respect your fastball, and that you can locate it. For a major league starter to get three times through an order, you have to make batters respect different pitches. If they can lock in on a certain pitch, it just makes it that much tougher.”
Hitters have been able to decipher Maeda once they survive the early innings. Entering Sunday's game, opponents were batting .191 before Maeda reaches 75 pitches but .351 afterward.
“I think simply put it's a control issue,” he told the Daily News through an interpreter. “For me, I think it's more of an execution issue, more about command and control which I definitely didn't have today.”
Another disturbing trend: Maeda has lasted seven innings just once, on April 17 in a 3-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.
“After 75 pitches, third time through, the breaking ball has to be especially sharp,” Roberts told the Daily News. “If it's not, there's damage to be had.”
In Japan, Maeda was the one doing damage. During his eight-year career with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan's Central League, the right-hander won 15 games three times and compiled earned-run averages ranging between 2.60 and 1.53 in the past six years.
Last season, Maeda led Japan's Central League with 15 wins, compiled a 2.09 ERA and held opponents to a .222 average. Maeda's performance earned him the Sawamura Award as the best pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball for the second time.
The Dodgers signed Maeda to an eight-year contract worth $25 million in January after declining to re-sign right-hander Zack Greinke or to pursue two other highly regarded free-agent starters, right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija — who helped the San Francisco Giants compile baseball's best record.