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Stepping Up (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday April 26, 2006 12:00PM; Updated: Wednesday April 26, 2006 12:37PM
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Bronson Arroyo has provided solid pitching for the otherwise woeful Reds rotation.
Bronson Arroyo has provided solid pitching for the otherwise woeful Reds rotation.
Dilip Vishwanat/US Presswire

"I think Greg had come to the conclusion that he needed to do more than he usually did in the winter to keep pitching at a high level," Kleven told the Chicago Tribune. "So he really committed to it."

Maddux never has been a particularly slow starter. He began the 2006 season with a 47-27 record in March and April, with a 3.04 ERA. But last season, in five April starts, he struggled to a 4.20 ERA.

Now, with Wood and Prior out for another month or so, a semi-buff and suddenly revived Maddux is acting as stopper (three of his wins have come after Cubs losses) and team ace.

"What Greg brings to the table is not only performance but a mind-set that is -- it's incredible to watch," Hendry said.

His timing's not too bad, either.

Here are nine other pitchers who have pitched well this season when their teams have most needed them:

Bronson Arroyo, Reds
Eric Milton's bad knee will put him out for a month or more, so it's been up to Arroyo, traded from the Red Sox to the Reds late in spring training, to become the ace. "I don't necessarily want to be anybody's ace unless it comes to playoff time," he said. Well, too late. In four starts, Arroyo is 3-0 with a 3.04 ERA. He's struck out 22 in 27 2/3 innings and walked only five.

Chris Capuano, Brewers
Ben Sheets missed the start of the season with a strained back and Doug Davis is off to a slow start. The lefty Capuano, though, has been superb. A quiet 18-game winner last season, Capuano is just 3-2, but he has a stellar 3.00 ERA and has put in a quality start every time out.

Gustavo Chacin, Blue Jays
Roy Halladay has missed a couple of starts with a sore arm and A.J. Burnett, the pricey free agent with the elbow of glass, is weeks away, maybe more, from returning to the rotation. Lefty Chacin, who held down the high-scoring Orioles on Tuesday to go to 4-0, has been the answer. Chacin's ERA is downright offensive -- it's 5.11 -- but making the starts, especially for the hard-hitting Jays, is way more important. The wins are nice, too.

Jason Johnson, Indians
Everyone wondered how the Indians would survive without Kevin Millwood, who had the best ERA in baseball last year before taking big free-agent money from Texas. When ace C.C. Sabathia hurt himself in the season opener, the Indians began to worry. But ground-ball specialist Johnson has been the fill-in ace, making four solid starts. He's 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA.

Roy Oswalt, Astros
No Rocket, no problem in Houston. Roger Clemens is still deciding if and where, but the new Houston ace isn't waiting around. Oswalt, a slender right-hander riding a pair of back-to-back 20-win seasons, has used his big fastball to start 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA.

Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
The lefty Rodriguez has been almost as good as Oswalt. In four starts he is 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA. In doesn't hurt either Rodriguez or Oswalt, of course, that the Astros have become one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball.

Ervin Santana, Angels
Bartolo Colon has struggled (three starts, 0-2 with a 7.07 ERA), but Santana has stepped up. In four starts the rail-thin righty has struck out 19 batters in 24 1/3 innings, going 2-0 with a 2.96 ERA and outpitching more heralded rotation-mates John Lackey, Jeff Weaver and Kelvim Escobar.

John Thomson, Braves
Mike Hampton is out for the year. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson are still trying to find a rhythm. But every time Thomson takes the mound, he's dealing. He started the season in the bullpen, but when Horacio Ramirez went down with a bad hamstring, Thomson responded with three starts in which he's struck out 15 batters in 17 innings and allowed just one earned run. He doesn't have a decision, but that 1.31 ERA sure is pretty.

Dontrelle Willis, Marlins
His too-green team isn't backing him up, but D-Train's doing an admirable job on a staff now without Burnett or Josh Beckett (traded to Boston). In five starts Willis is just 1-1, losing Tuesday to the Cubs, his first loss in four big league Aprils. But he has a 3.13 ERA and has kept the Marlins in every game he's pitched.