Peavy, Webb share mutual respect
NL West rivals entering season as determined as ever
TUCSON, Ariz. -- They were once the young arms of the National League West, but no longer, even at 28 and 26."I don't know if I can consider them to be young pitchers anymore," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "They're young established pitchers. Any time you talk about great pitchers under 30, you would certainly mention them as above the group." They are the National League's past two Cy Young Award winners: Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres. Together they have combined for 64 wins and a couple of playoff appearances during the past two years. Their clubs are NL West rivals and face each other 19 times a season, and the right-handers are the undisputed No. 1 starters and aces of their respective staffs. "Me and Webby were just fortunate to get into the game at such a young age," said Peavy, the younger of the two. "Now we've evolved into guys who have won Cy Youngs. It's kind of crazy for me to think about. But we've definitely been fortunate in our careers." They have also built a two-man, mutual-admiration society. "He's a great pitcher," Webb said. "I know we've pretty much had comparable stats. There are a lot of good young pitchers in the NL West. We've got the hardware, I guess, but that's gone and done in the past. We're just going to have to go back out there and do it again." Comparable career stats? Peavy has a 76-51 record with 1,090 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA over the course of six seasons and 172 starts. Webb owns a 65-55 record with 880 strikeouts and a 3.22 ERA over the course of five seasons and 163 starts. In 2006, when Webb won the Cy Young, he was 16-8 with 170 strikeouts and a 3.10 ERA in 33 starts. The D-backs didn't make the playoffs, but the Padres did. In 2007, when Peavy won the Cy Young, he captured the NL pitching triple crown with 19 wins, 240 strikeouts and a 2.54 ERA in 34 starts. The Padres didn't make the playoffs, losing to the Rockies in the 163rd game of the season. The D-backs did.
Webb actually had a better statistical year in 2007 than he did in 2006: 18-10, 184 strikeouts and a 3.01 ERA. He was no match for Peavy in the Cy Young voting, even though the surprising D-backs went to the NL Championship Series, where they were swept by the even more surprising Rockies.It's a high standard of proficiency that has to be reached or exceeded now every year. "I don't put any expectations on myself based on what I've done the last couple of years. I can't," Webb said. "I shoot for 20 wins a year every year, which I think I'm capable of doing. But the only expectation I have in myself is to go out there and eat up innings and try to win ballgames for my team." Both pitchers are sons of the south: Peavy from tiny Semmes, Ala., a town that was wracked by the winds and rain of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005; Webb from Ashland, Ky., and an alumnus of the University of Kentucky, where he played his college baseball with Joe Blanton, the right-hander who's emerged as the mainstay of the A's pitching staff. Neither were overwhelmingly hot prospects. Webb was Arizona's eighth-round selection in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft and reached the Major Leagues for good in 2003. Peavy was picked in the 15th round by the Padres in 1999 and was a fixture in San Diego's rotation by the 2003 season. Both have had their mentors. Webb emerged when Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson were still the top two pitchers for the D-backs. Johnson returned last year, and because of serious back problems, is now in a surrogate role. Peavy fed off Roger Clemens, whom he played with on the 2004 Major League Baseball All-Star team that toured Japan and again on the 2006 team that represented the U.S. in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. And now Peavy is in his second season working with Greg Maddux, who he says has been instrumental in his growth as a pitcher. "It's no coincidence that I had my best year in the big leagues working beside Greg Maddux," said Peavy about the 41-year-old Hall of Fame-bound right-hander who signed as a free agent before the 2007 season. "He's taught me how to use the plate a lot more and not throw so many pitches." Clemens and Maddux have won 701 games and 11 Cy Young Awards between them. Johnson and Schilling have won 460.
That's something to shoot at for the two guys who have combined for 141 wins and the two Cy Youngs. It's mind-boggling to think about doing it again and again, Peavy said."After winning it once, it's amazing to know everything that has to go right in a season for you to win that award," Peavy said. "You see guys who've done it multiple times, and all you can do is look at it with incredible respect. Yeah, I put the cleats on, but then you open up the media guide and read what a guy like Maddux has done, arguably he's one of the best to ever put on spikes." Johnson, 44, has won five all by his lonesome, four of them in the NL. As the left-hander tries to come back this season from micro-laser surgery to repair disk damage in his back, he is a model of longevity and an inspiration for Webb. Johnson is 16 wins short of 300, and with 57 strikeouts, he will surpass the dormant Clemens for second place on the all-time list. "Hopefully, one day I can do that," Webb said. "If I can continue doing what I've done for the last couple or three years, hopefully I can eventually be where those guys are. I'm definitely going to strive for that." That, of course, is way off on the horizon. What's important to Peavy and Webb is simply building upon or at least maintaining the status quo this season. It's not a competition between the two, Webb said. "I don't really compete with the other pitchers," he said. "I pretty much go out and attack the lineup and don't worry about what he's doing or anything like that." But Peavy doesn't agree. "I know what I'm capable of doing," Peavy added. "I know that if I go out there and do that I should have a chance to succeed. That being said, this game is hard enough as it is. And when you win a Cy Young and you go out and face a Webb, who's a Cy Young Award winner, too, you definitely have something to prove."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.