Clay Buchholz and 13 MLB Pitchers with Something to Prove
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Forget about the curveball, Ricky... give him the heater!
Any good baseball fan worth his salt can recite for you that epic line from the close of Major League. Charlie Sheen's Cleveland Indians are on the verge of an epic comeback to take the title all they need (besides a game-winning run courtesy of Tom Berenger and a pre tax-evasion Wesley Snipes) is for young phenom Rick Vaughn to strike out the Yankees' star slugger, Haywood.
With an 0-2 count, Vaughn rears back and unleashes a 101-mph fastball that knocks Haywood right out of the box, setting the stage for the Indians' unlikely triumph.
Vaughn pitched like a young man with something to prove in that film (and given that he'd already given up two dingers to Haywood that season in the movie, he was). What follows is a list of 13 more—real—MLB pitchers who are taking the mound this season with something to show the world.
Feel we missed any? Leave a note in the comments below.
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So far this season, Ted Lilly is 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00. And frankly, that’s exactly what he needed.
Lilly hasn’t had a winning season since 2009. He’s 36 years old and with his fifth major league team. If he’d had a bad year, the Dodgers would likely be looking to unload him and the $12million he’s scheduled to earn in 2013. A big season like this is exactly what he needs, and if he can keep pitching at this level, Lilly might just earn himself his third career All-Star berth.
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With all the mishegoss that surrounded Carlos Zambrano and his trade to the Marlins this offseason, Zambrano really needed to come out of the gate swinging—or rather, pitching—if he hoped to avoid being dumped onto the free agent market at the end of the season.
Luckily for him, he has been pitching very well indeed, and Zambrano’s 1.96 ERA in eight starts so far represents the brightest light in the surging Miami Marlins rotation.
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Granted free agency by the Chicago White Sox this offseason after 12 years of service, Mark Buehrle—the AL’s three-time reigning Gold Glove winner on the mound—must have felt slighted by the snub.
Despite notching double-digit wins for eleven straight years as the mainstay of the Sox rotation, Chicago let him walk.
There is no question that Buehrle will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder this year, and though his win-loss percentage is stable at just .500 now, watch for that number to creep upwards as other arms around the league tire and Buehrle taps his reserves of knowledge and longevity.
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Deemed washed up after a 9-17 2011 campaign with the Braves, in which he posted a 5.05 ERA, Derek Lowe walked into the Cleveland Indians clubhouse this spring with something to prove—namely, that he still had something left in his soon-to-be 39 year-old arm.
And prove it he has! Lowe is 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA, which puts him in great shape to be named to his first All-Star team in a decade.
If Lowe can keep it up, he might even be able to power the Cleveland Indians all the way to an AL Central title—truly, Lowe is a man on a mission.
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Chris Capuano is 33 years old, and he has had only one winning season in his 8-season, 4-team MLB career.
Think he walked into this year with something to prove? Oh yeah.
Failing with the Dodgers would likely have meant the end of the line for Capuano, but this lefty has responded with some nasty talent never before shown. His 1.05 WHIP, 2.25 ERA and 6-1 record for a win-loss percentage of .857 are all career bests. Given his modest contract, if Capuano keeps it up, Magic Johnson and the new Dodgers management are going to have quite a gem on their hands.
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Injury-plagued since George W. Bush left the Oval Office, Jake Peavy has had a rough last few years. He hasn’t managed even 20 MLB starts since 2008, so this year is a big one for him.
And he is playing like it. In 9 starts, Peavy has posted a 5-1 record with 55 strikeouts, a 0.91 WHIP and a 2.39 ERA.
Peavy won both the Cy Young Award and the pitcher’s Triple Crown with the Padres in 2007, but he has never been the same since. Maybe 2012 will be the season that Peavy finally comes back to form.
It certainly looks promising so far.
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Barry Zito won a Cy Young Award with the A’s in 2002. After seven years with the team, he walked across the Bay, signing on with the San Francisco Giants as a free agent following the cash. After that, he was never the same, and in the 5 seasons that followed, he managed a record of only 43-61, leading the league in losses once and raking in a total of $80 million for his efforts.
Did all that give Zito something to prove? You bet it did. And so far, he has responded, posting a 3-1 record and 3.00 ERA over 8 starts that, while mind blowing, represent his best work since his Cy Young season of a decade ago.
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When you command upwards of $100 million to sign with a team, you better believe that much is expected of you. (Just look at all the flak Albert Pujols has gotten.) So it is no wonder that pressure has been heaped on Yu Darvish, who has been expected to deliver right out of the gate.
So far, he has yet to disappoint.
Darvish has six wins in his nine starts with 63 strikeouts, putting him at or near the top of the MLB in both categories.
If he can keep up this pace, look for the Rangers to ride his arm all the way to their third straight AL title. If they pull it off, they will be the first team to do so since the ’98-’01 New York Yankees.
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Chris Volstad is the guy the Chicago Cubs got from the Marlins this offseason. In exchange for Carlos Zambrano (and $15 million dollars of his contract), the Cubs got young righthander Chris Volstad.
You think Volstad walked in with something to prove? You betcha. Especially when Zambrano returned to form immediately upon entering South Florida and started putting up All-Star numbers.
So how is Volstad responding? Well, through eight starts, he’s 0-6 with an NL-worst 7.46 ERA.
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On September 1, 2007, Clay Buchholz hurled a no-hitter in just his second major league start. The win galvanized the Red Sox and pushed the team forward on its playoff chase, which culminated with a season-ending World Series win, the franchise’s second in just four years.
Buchholz was not long coming in establishing himself as a presence within the Red Sox rotation, but the kid just couldn’t stop getting injured. He managed to pitch more than 16 games—half a season—just once over the next four years. There was also talk that his arm couldn’t hold up.
Thus, Buchholz came into the season with something to prove. How has he responded? Well, he does have a 4-2 win-loss record. But he also boasts an ERA of 7.84 —that is the worst of any starter in the majors.
Yes, Buchholz has something to prove, all right. But what he is proving with his performance is less than clear.
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49 year-old Jamie Moyer is the oldest player in Major League Baseball.
Ponder this—the man was born during the Kennedy administration. That’s old, especially for an athlete. So when he announced his comeback with the Colorado Rockies after a year spent in retirement, many assumed that he wouldn’t be able to cut it.
Is Moyer washed up? That is hard to say. But his WHIP of 1.75—second only among major league starters to (you guessed it) Clay Buchholz —speaks volumes.
Moyer is out there trying to show that a guy pushing 50 can still compete in this league. However, if he can’t step up his game, he might serve as his own worst counter-argument.
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As a rookie, Adam Wainwright came up big with a Game 7 strikeout of Carlos Beltran in the NLCS that helped propel the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series and a championship. In 2009, Wainwright led the league in wins and came in third in Cy Young Award voting; in 2010, he came in second.
Then, tragedy struck.
Early in 2011, Wainwright hurt himself pitching spring batting practice, an injury that was thought minor at the time. It wasn’t. Wainwright’s torn ligaments required Tommy John surgery, and the hard-throwing righty sat out for all of the Cardinals’ World Series 2011 season.
Now back in action, Wainwright has to prove that he’s rebounded well from the surgery. Thing is, he may not have. Through eight starts, Wainwright is 2-5 with a ballooning ERA of 5.77.
We all know Wainwright is trying to prove he’s still got it. Problem is… he might not.
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Francisco Liriano’s numbers are so bad, they make Buchholz and Moyer's seasons look good. His ERA is 8.31. Even more astonishingly, his WHIP is 2.04—that means he averages more than two baserunners allowed every inning!
These stats would make Liriano the worst starter in the majors, but they are so bad, he is not even a starter anymore. He has been demoted to middle relief duty. For the dead-last Minnesota Twins.
Liriano was an All-Star and a Rookie of the Year candidate in his first season in the bigs. As recently as two years ago, he had a winning record and garnered votes for the Cy Young Award. Now, the aging southpaw is trying to prove he hasn’t flamed out and trying to hold on to his job.
If and when Manager Ron Gardenhire (who may also be on the chopping block) calls Francisco to the mound for this floundering club, you better believe that Liriano will be pitching with quite a bit to prove.