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Camp carrying load in Cubs bullpen

CHICAGO – About seven months ago, reliever Shawn Camp’s baseball future was decidedly murky.

Camp suddenly was jobless two weeks before the start of regular season, released by the Seattle Mariners despite signing a free agent deal only weeks earlier. The timing could not have been worse for the 36-year-old right hander, who decided he was not ready to hang up his cleats.

The free agent market is notoriously tough for relievers, since many teams opt to fill their bullpen from within the organization. A journeyman pitcher in the twilight of his career, Camp was in a tough spot. But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer believed Camp, a nine-year veteran, would add needed big-league experience to a young Cubs bullpen.

Eleven days before their season opener against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs signed Camp to a one-year deal, in what has become one of their best off-season acquisitions.

“I think it’s a blessing to come over here and pitch from all the things that happened to me in spring training and tough off-season with the market,” Camp said. “For Jed and Theo to see something in me that maybe nobody else saw at that time – you never know when you wake up the next day where you’re going to be in this game for sure.”

Camp never envisioned he would have such an important role for the Cubs. However, his ability to pitch in any situation – though he has been used primarily in the late innings when the Cubs have the lead – made him manager Dale Sveum’s go-to reliever with the game on the line.

Sveum’s reliance on Camp has led to the heaviest workload of his career. Camp’s 69 relief appearances this season leads the majors, and he is currently on pace to pitch in 83 games, which would surpass his career-high 75 with Tampa Bay in 2006. Camp could break the Cubs’ single-season record of 84 appearances in a season, held by Ted Abernathy (1965), Dick Tidrow (1980) and Bob Howry (2006).

“It’s not that important to me,” Camp said of leading MLB in appearances. “It’s how we finish as a team, and collectively, how we can help one another moving forward, is more important than any statistical thing I could think of.”

As the innings have piled up, Camp’s effectiveness hasn’t wavered. He struck out one batter and did not allow a base runner or hit in one inning of work during Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the San Francisco Giants. In his 67 2⁄3 innings pitched this season, which are the sixth most by a reliever, Camp has surrendered 17 walks while striking out 47.

“I just wanted to work hard in the off-season,” Camp said. “My buddy always says, ‘Hard work pays off.’ I worked as hard in the off-season as I had in the past and put myself in the situation to throw a lot of innings, throw a lot of games. It’s coming along.”

Sveum has often touted Camp for having a rubber arm, a credit to his ability to throw consecutive days and warm up multiple times during a game without getting tired or worrying about arm fatigue. In addition to an off-season workout plan Camp said, warming up “smart” is the key to staying fresh and prepared.

While he doesn’t like being given days off, Camp understands mental rest is just as important as keeping the body fresh if he wants to finish the season strong.

“I still go about my routine like I’m going to be in the game,” Camp said. “ … They’re really good at, especially with me and [James Russell], not getting us up if they’re not going to use us. That’s a big payoff because you don’t get that from a lot of managers and pitching coaches, there’s not a lot of times that they do that.”

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