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08/19/08 11:00 PM ET
Maddux may be Dodgers' final piece
Veteran's intangibles have teammates thinking playoffs
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- The body of work from the last 23 seasons will surely get Greg Maddux into the Hall of Fame, first ballot. But what he does over the next six weeks could get the Dodgers into the postseason. That's why he's a Dodger again. "It worked once. Why not again?" asked Derek Lowe, who benefited the most when the club acquired Maddux two years ago and reached the playoffs. Lowe was the happiest guy in the clubhouse to learn that his buddy had been reacquired from the Padres on Tuesday for two Minor Leaguers to be named. The Dodgers and Padres will share the remaining $2.3 million of Maddux's $10 million contract. San Diego will select the two players from a list of five by Oct. 15. Maddux is added to fellow rent-a-players Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake as the Dodgers keep tweaking the roster to win the NL West. General manager Ned Colletti said the Maddux deal was "expedited" when Brad Penny aggravated an injury that had already shelved him for seven weeks and could sideline him the rest of the year. Colletti said he would have acquired Maddux to replace Penny in the rotation even if James McDonald had thrown a no-hitter while Colletti scouted him on Sunday night, instead of getting knocked out in the fourth inning for Triple-A Las Vegas. Colletti conceded he's still "a little" worried about the Dodgers' bullpen without closer Takashi Saito, who is playing catch but remains a huge unknown with a bad elbow that might require surgery. At age 42, Maddux is basically a six-inning pitcher. He joins 20-year-old rookie Clayton Kershaw, who rarely is allowed to pitch deeper than that. "I'm not as strong, as durable, whatever," Maddux said. "It's not as easy to throw 120 pitches like it used to be. You play with what you've got. If you keep your team in the game for six or seven innings, you let everyone else do their thing." Manager Joe Torre put the most positive spin possible on the burden Maddux's short starts will place on an already weakened relief corps. "Six quality innings is OK," said Torre. "I'd like to believe we have somebody who can get us eight innings. If you can't fill the rest of the game, you're not good enough to do anything." Colletti said the starting depth Maddux provides could allow the Dodgers to send a starter to the bullpen, particularly if Penny returns in September. A natural bullpen candidate would be Lowe, a former closer who has been erratic enough to be getting yanked lately when he just approaches 100 pitches. Of course, the Dodgers would prefer Lowe starts and eats innings like the postseason hero he was in Boston. There's hope he can revisit those glory days because of Maddux, whose presence elevated Lowe's game before. When Maddux went 6-3 with a 3.30 ERA to help get the Dodgers into the playoffs in 2006, Lowe went 8-1, and he hasn't had a run like that since. "I definitely pitched a lot better once he got here," Lowe said. "He helped me in so many ways. I can't say exactly which ways, but we spent a lot of time watching video and he helped me understand how to attack hitters. It will be fun to get back to that situation. "He will stabilize the rotation. We all know what he can do. But especially with a young staff. It's not even so much what he does the day he pitches but what he does the other four days that he doesn't pitch. You watch the game with him and he talks about the game. You pick his brain about how he pitches certain hitters. That's invaluable. So there's more than his wins and losses. There's his knowledge and just the presence of having him." As for that resume, wow. He's a four-time Cy Young Award winner, 17-time Gold Glove winner and an eight-time All-Star. He has 353 career wins, one behind Roger Clemens for eighth all-time. In 26 starts this season, the right-hander is 6-9 with a 3.99 ERA. In his last three starts, the right-hander is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA (four earned runs in 19 innings) while striking out nine and walking just one. He's reached the postseason 12 times. When he reached the postseason with the Dodgers, however, it didn't last long. The Dodgers were swept by the Mets, with Maddux starting and getting a no-decision after allowing four runs in four innings of a 9-5 loss. Maddux said he's just as excited about joining this pennant run as he was two years ago and said he hasn't yet thought about returning to the Dodgers or to baseball next year.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.