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09/01/08 12:35 AM ET
Early exit a sinking feeling for Webb
Melvin says D-backs ace having trouble locating best pitch
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon Webb tried to create a little history once again on Sunday evening by notching his 20th victory of the season before August made way to September. Unfortunately, this time, he didn't get through the fourth inning in an 8-1 loss to the Dodgers at Chase Field. It was his second stab at it and his second subpar performance in less than a week. Now, he'll have to wait until Saturday for another attempt against these same Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. "Physically, he's fine," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said afterward, trying to assuage any doubt about the pitcher who is attempting to win his second National League Cy Young Award in the past three years. "Watching him warm up, I thought he made some significant adjustments from the last time out." They weren't enough on national television and on the big stage of a raging NL West race, which is heading into Labor Day with the D-backs holding a 2 1/2-game advantage on the Dodgers and 26 games to play. Webb (19-6) is on the verge of becoming the first 20-game winner in the National League since Dontrelle Willis did it for the Marlins in 2005. With about five or six starts remaining, he has an outside chance of matching the 24 victories compiled by teammate Randy Johnson for the D-backs in 2002. Out of reach now is Bob Welch's 27 for the A's in 1990. The last time that level was reached in the NL was Steve Carlton for the Phillies in 1972. Webb was out of this one so quickly it was breathtaking. Six batters into the game, including a homer by Andre Ethier and a three-run shot by Casey Blake, the Dodgers led, 4-0, and there was no looking back. It was an uncharacteristic outing, and just as uncharacteristically, Webb split the clubhouse early before speaking to reporters, although he can be excused that digression considering the results. His teammates were ready to pick up the slack for him just as Webb has done on so many occasions over the past three seasons. "You deal with it," D-backs center fielder Chris Young said about the rare aberrant performance. "It's going to happen. Nobody is perfect. Webby has done a great job this year. But at the same time, he's still a human, no matter how super human you make him -- which he is most of the time. No great pitcher in the game is going to go 30-0. Every now and again, he's going to get beat." Webb's losses have come in clusters this season. This is the third time he's lost back-to-back decisions, the other pairs coming on May 21 and 26 and June 17 and 22. But the eight runs (six earned) on eight hits (including the two first-inning homers), five walks (two intentional), three strikeouts and a wild pitch in 3 1/3 innings was by far his worst outing of the season. In these consecutive losses, including a 6-5 drubbing by the Padres this past Tuesday in San Diego, Webb has been pelted for 17 hits and 14 runs (12 earned) in eight innings. Hardly Cy Young Award-winning numbers. Compare that to his previous six starts, all wins: a total of eight runs (all earned) on 28 hits in 45 innings. Melvin said the possible reason for the three blips in Webb's otherwise unblemished season is a lack of mastering his signature pitch, the sinker, which opponents have a tendency to pound into the ground with numbing consistency. "A couple of times a year he's been a little out of whack with his best pitch," Melvin said. "When he's had his difficult periods this year, it's been an issue locating that." Asked to explain how Webb is out of whack mechanically, Melvin added: "He just gets a little ahead of himself and his arm lags." For the uninitiated, that means in the micro-second of movement when he hurtles the ball, Webb's body is heading to toward the plate too quickly and his arm is too far behind to make up for the discrepancy. The seemingly slight alteration brings the sinker too far up into the strike zone, making it hittable rather than intolerable. "His sinker and fastball just runs off the plate, whether it's to a righty or a lefty and that's how he gets in trouble," Melvin said. Webb was in trouble quickly and often on Sunday evening. But he'll have another six days to figure it all out.
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.