Looking back on Maholm’s memorable gem
If one would have been discussing Paul Maholm leading up to Friday night’s start, they might have pointed out that his first start with the Braves had ended in a loss against an Astros team that he had dominated over the past few years. Or they might have pointed out that he had allowed exactly seven runs in his only three previous starts at Citi Field.
So much for small sample size garbage.
By the time Maholm was done with his three-hit shutout on Friday night, there was reason to debate where it ranks among some of the best starts turned in by a Braves pitcher over the past few years. The one that immediately came to mind was the one-hit shutout Tim Hudson tossed against the Brewers last year. Some might also consider the one-hit shutout that Jair Jurrjens tossed against the Orioles just before his promising 2011 season turned into a disaster.
Whatever the case, Maholm’s masterpiece was one that solidified the Braves’ beliefs that they gained a hidden gem at this year’s Trade Deadline. Most of the trade buzz surrounding starting pitchers focused on Zack Greinke and Ryan Dempster. As the power of Twitter revealed last night, Braves fans remain quite thankful that Dempster balked at the opportunity to pitch in Atlanta.
Maholm’s 95-pitch outing against the Mets was simply a continuation of the dominance he has displayed over the past six weeks. In his past eight starts, he has posted a 1.20 ERA and limited opponents to a .194 batting average. With one fewer start , Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers is the only other Major League pitcher with a lower ERA (1.16) and batting average allowed (.195) during this span that dates back to June 29.
In case you were wondering, Greinke has posted a 5.67 ERA dating back to June 27. Dempster has constructed a 3.93 ERA in the six starts he has made since coming off the disabled list in July.
OK, let’s halt this small sample size analysis for at least a few more graphs.
Maholm’s performance on Friday marked the 33rd time since the start of the 1990 season that a Braves pitcher has allowed three hits or fewer in a shutout consisting of at least nine innings (erases a five-inning shutout Greg Maddux notched in 1997). John Smoltz and Greg Maddux were the only members of this group to need fewer than the 95 pitches Maholm threw against the Mets.
Smoltz threw 94 pitches in a three-hit shutout against the Dodgers in 1990. Maddux threw four shutouts that consisted of 94 pitches or fewer for the Braves. His most efficient outing was an 86-pitch outing at old Yankee Stadium on July 2, 1997.
Maholm, who has allowed exactly three hits in each of his four career shutouts, said after Friday’s game that as he progresses toward a shutout he sets a goal to throw 10 pitches or fewer per inning. Looking back nearly a decade, I’m thinking this was never one of Russ Ortiz’s goals.
Braves general manager Frank Wren and his staff deserve to be praised for the moves that they have made while working within tight financial constraints. There was obviously some luck involved with Ben Sheets. But if Wren, assistant general manager Bruce Manno and director of professional scouting John Coppolella had not pushed to sign Sheets, this year’s best feel-good story would be evolving in another team’s clubhouse. (If you have not read Thursday’s story about Sheets, do yourself a favor and click on the link above to read the comments made by his surgeon.)
Then when it came time to get a starting pitcher before the Trade Deadline, they landed one of the game’s hottest pitchers (Maholm) and Reed Johnson, a right-handed bench veteran that they had attempted to acquire in the past. Yes the Braves were forced to part ways with highly-regarded prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who has a chance to be a closer in the Majors. But this was the price needed to get the Cubs to pay for the remainder of the salaries owed to Maholm and Johnson this year.
Johnson has essentially filled the role previously reserved for Matt Diaz, who is still hoping to avoid surgery to repair his bothersome right thumb ailment. In fact Johnson appears to be quite capable of filling Diaz’s role as Johan Santana’s top nemesis.
Santana will return tonight for the first time since going on the disabled list in late July with what was described as a right ankle sprain. The veteran left-hander made two starts after he suffered the sprain when Johnson stepped on his twisted ankle while playing for the Cubs on July 6.
This incident only added to the damage Johnson has done to Santana over the years. Entering tonight’s game, he has batted .516 (16-for-31) with two home runs, a .545 on-base percentage and .839 slugging percentage against the former Cy Young Award winner.