Suppan brings three 'ables' to the Crew
Veteran adds durability, reliability and accountability to staff
PHOENIX -- What did Jeff Suppan bring to the Brewers, besides a high price tag?
Easy, says the guy who helped Suppan break in as a Red Sox rookie 12 years ago.
"He's durable, accountable, reliable," Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He's got the three 'ables.'"
But will Suppan be able to push the Brewers over the hump? That is what the team's fans are wondering while Suppan gets comfortable in his new uniform.
On Christmas Eve, after a quick courtship that included a dinner in Los Angeles with owner Mark Attanasio, general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ned Yost, the free-agent Suppan agreed to the richest contract in club history. It guarantees $42 million over the next four years and could pay $52.75 million over the next five, if the team exercises a 2011 option.
Maddux is among those who consider it money well spent, and he knows Suppan as well as anyone. Maddux was a 33-year-old Boston reliever when Suppan, then 20 and two years removed from being Boston's second-round draft pick, made his big-league debut.
Their paths crossed only briefly. Maddux was back with Boston in 1996, but then moved on. Still, both men made an impression on each other.
"I always respected him as a player," Suppan said. "It is a little different working with him now, but what I remember is just sitting out in the bullpen, talking. There's a lot of time to kill out there."
Maddux's impressions now that they have reunited?
"He's older. Otherwise he's the same kid," Maddux said. "He's also got the track record. You could see back then that he had that intangible, even at 20, 21 years old."
"I just tried to hold his hand. That's kind of how you do it," Maddux said.
Now, Suppan could be that guy for the Brewers.
"I certainly hope so," Maddux said. "Lead by example. Lead from the front. Whether a veteran player knows it or not, the younger guys are watching because you've been where they want to go. You're who they want to be, a guy in his 30s still playing the game and still being productive."
Added Attanasio, who hosted that dinner in L.A.: "He's a competitor. He clearly did not want to go to a losing team. That was very clear in the first hour of conversations."
Suppan is now 32, and is coming off a three-year run with the St. Louis Cardinals that culminated last fall with a World Series win. Suppan's 44 wins over the last three years rank tied for ninth among Major League starters, 11 shy of co-leaders Roy Oswalt and Johan Santana.
Along the way, Suppan continued his run of durability. He has made more than 30 starts in each of the last eight seasons, and pitched at least 200 innings in five straight seasons before his three-year run under Cards manager Tony La Russa, who tends to make early calls to the bullpen.
That's the kind of guy Maddux is hoping Suppan continues to be. Maddux watched last season as Milwaukee's rotation wilted after losing Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka to injury, and Suppan was acquired in part to stabilize the middle of that group.
"I'm looking for a guy that's going to be reliable for his 20 percent of [the team's] starts," Maddux said.
They also believed they were getting a good teacher. Suppan doesn't mind being that type of guy, either.
"It's not like it's a requirement," he said. "But I feel like we're all a product of our expertise, and I don't mind sharing some of that with the guys around me. I'm learning just as much from being around them as they might be learning from me."
Brewers catcher Damian Miller knows that role. He played briefly with Suppan in Arizona in 1998, and was brought to Milwaukee as a free agent before the 2005 season partly to mentor a young pitching staff.
"They got the right guy," Miller said. "I knew that the second we signed him. He's easy to get along with, a great teammate. [He's] just a great addition all-around, everything from what he gives you on the field to off it."
Suppan made his unofficial Brewers debut in Monday's intrasquad game, working around two hits and a walk in one scoreless inning. His Cactus League debut is scheduled for Monday against the White Sox at Maryvale Baseball Park, and it appears as though Suppan is lined up behind Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano in the starting rotation, though Yost has made nothing official.
Suppan said he is working this spring on fastball command.
"It's good to get out there and put into practice the things you've been working on," he said. "It's different when there is a hitter in there and your defense is around. So it felt really good out there. Obviously, there is a lot more work to do."
He is also working to learn his new teammates. Suppan has a copy of the team's Spring Training roster -- three columns arranged by uniform number, last name and position -- taped to the inside of his locker.
"Baseball is a small circle," he said. "I think it would fall into place for any player who makes a move. You get right back into the routine."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.