|Streak over, Webb sets his sights on second consecutive Cy Young Award|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 23 August 2007 08:14|
Webb's string ended at 42 innings Wednesday night when he gave up a run in the first against Milwaukee. He went on to pitch the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks to a 3-2 win.
``I finished up pretty strong last year, and I feel pretty strong right now,'' Webb said. ``I'd say it's pretty comparable.''
Webb was nowhere near Cy Young contention when he dropped three straight decisions to fall to 8-8 on July 20. But the 28-year-old righty has won six straight starts - including three complete-game shutouts - and has helped carry the surprising young Diamondbacks.
``Since then, he's taken off and been the horse that we expect him to be,'' Arizona manager Bob Melvin said.
Webb's 191 2-3 innings are most in the majors. He has three shutouts, and no other National Leaguer has more than one.
Webb's 2.63 ERA is fourth in the NL, behind Chris Young's 2.12, Jake Peavy's 2.21 and Brad Penny's 2.59.
Webb has 166 strikeouts. Only Peavy, with 186, has more in the NL.
``The numbers will show right now, especially here recently, that he's been about as good as he's ever been in his career,'' Melvin said.
``We've had some success this year, and we don't have it without him. We didn't give him much run support early on in the season,'' he said.
Young has been viewed as the Cy Young favorite since midseason. But he left the Padres on Wednesday to have his sore back examined, and that may throw the race open.
As Webb closed in on Orel Hershiser's major league record of 59 scoreless innings, set in 1988, the Arizona ace's name popped up in more Cy Young debates.
``I don't know if it's the streak. The scoreless innings obviously brought my ERA down a ton (from 3.38 to 2.63). But the wins that come with it have also helped out a lot in that regard, I would think,'' he said.
Melvin, then with San Francisco, homered against Hershiser shortly before he embarked on that 59-inning streak in 1988.
``There's so many easy ways for a run to get on the board. It takes some luck. But it also takes a lot of skill. And his skill through 42 innings was like nothing I've ever seen before,'' he said.
Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said Webb had to overcome more than the opposing lineups.
``(The media is) hammering you about the streak, what about the streak?'' he said. ``If they would just leave him alone and let him go out and pitch this game, he'd stand a lot better chance of doing it, but nobody wants to do that stuff anymore.''
Webb generally seems immune to pressure. He is a laid-back Kentuckian who wears flip-flops and relaxes by playing the guitar in front of his locker stall. But he acknowledged that he was relieved when the streak ended.
``The attention that it got, every day coming in and having to deal with it - for it to be over, I can kind of take a deep breath and be like, 'Good, let's just go win some ballgames,''' he said.
Webb's demeanor didn't change after he won the Cy Young Award last year. But his repertoire did.
He came to spring training ready to develop his changeup, which has become a nasty complement to his trademark sinker.
``I think that's what's made him who he is right now,'' Melvin said. ``Now, his sinker's as good as we've seen it all year, but at times this year he has struggled with the command of it, and his secondary pitches have enabled him to continue being a successful guy.''
Webb has come a long way since 2004, when the Diamondbacks lost 111 games and he led the league with 16 defeats, 119 walks and 17 wild pitches. Back then, Webb seemingly tried to strike out every hitter because he didn't trust his fielders.
His approach changed in 2005, when the Diamondbacks shored up their middle infield with Craig Counsell and Royce Clayton. Webb began throwing more strikes with his sinker, allowing batters to pound the ball into the dirt.
When Webb agreed to a $19.5 million, four-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in January 2006, he knew he had accepted more than money and security. He also accepted the responsibility of being Arizona's top starter.
``I think he was ready to step up in the fashion that he did, and he ends up winning the Cy Young,'' Melvin said.
Now Webb may make it two in a row.
``Stuff-wise, I'm right where I want to be,'' Webb said. ``I feel pretty good. I would say it's up there with the tops where I've felt in my career, being able to locate as well as I have.''