Greg Maddux won’t throw his first pitch for the Dodgers this season until he faces the Philadelphia Phillies tonight, but Derek Lowe said that the four-time Cy Young Award winner has already made an impact.
Lowe pitched 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday at Dodger Stadium, something he said he didn’t do alone. While the Dodgers were hitting, the 42-year-old Maddux offered him his opinion on what the opposing hitters were trying to do and what he might want to do to offset that.
“It actually worked, believe it or not,” Lowe said, smiling.
Of course, Lowe wasn’t surprised.
This is the second go-around with the Dodgers for Maddux, who was 6-9 with a 3.99 earned-run average this season with San Diego and will be aiming for his 354th career victory tonight, which would he tie him with Roger Clemens for eighth all time.
Acquired on Tuesday for two minor-league players to be named, Maddux came to Los Angeles on the day of the 2006 non-waiver trade deadline.
He was 6-3 with a 3.30 earned-run average in 12 starts for the Dodgers that season, helping them reach the playoffs.
Catcher Russell Martin, who was a rookie that season, said Maddux changed the way he looked at the game.
“He keeps everything so simple,” Martin said. “He doesn’t make things complicated when they don’t need to be.”
Martin said he learned how small adjustments can make huge differences by watching Maddux get people out with a fastball in the low-to-mid 80s.
“He kind of tweaks every pitch,” Martin said. “He has a fastball he can cut and a fastball that he can run back. He’s just trying to get you to miss by two inches. That’s the difference between a groundball and a line drive. It’s an art form.
“He once told me that he can make a guy hit the ball wherever he wants. I believe him. He’s that good.”
Dodgers pitcher Brad Penny said Maddux taught him how to outthink hitters.
“He’s a lot smarter than most people -- probably smarter than anyone, as far as setting up hitters,” Penny said.
In a story that ran in ESPN magazine this year, Penny said he once asked Maddux to call a game for him from the bench when he faced the Chicago Cubs. Maddux signaled the pitches by looking toward different parts of the park and Penny threw seven shutout innings.
Penny wouldn’t confirm the story, saying Maddux didn’t want him to talk about it.
Others involved were coy when asked about the story.
“I know we joked around about it,” Martin said. “I think we did it for an inning or two.”
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said Maddux called only “a few” key pitches.
And what did Maddux say?
“I don’t remember,” he said, smirking.
How can he not remember?
“Selective memory, I guess.”
With someone like that on the mound tonight, Torre said he had less to worry about.
“He gives a manager a day off,” Torre said. “Not that he’s an automatic win, but you don’t have to concern yourself with, ‘Does he know what he’s doing?’ or, ‘Does he not know what he’s doing?’ ”
Third base coach Larry Bowa managed the Phillies when Maddux was in the same division with the Atlanta Braves and said that whenever he pitched against his teams, he always “seemed to be one step ahead of the hitters.”
“Pitchers have a hard time reading hitters, but this guy, he reads hitters,” Bowa said. “He can tell if a guy’s ahead of him or behind him, what he’s looking for. I don’t want to use the word sixth sense, but . . . “
Bowa said he also used to marvel at Maddux’s mechanics.
“I used to watch him because I read something and I wanted to make sure what I read was true -- that his delivery is so good, he would land on the same spot every time,” Bowa said.
So was the story true?
“Yeah,” Bowa said, laughing and shaking his head.
Lowe said Maddux’s expertise is a result of preparation, a claim supported by Honeycutt.
Honeycutt said Maddux changed the culture of the Dodgers’ pitching staff in 2006, when the other pitchers saw how much video he watched. Maddux’s willingness to talk to baseball with his teammates was a huge plus, and Honeycutt says he’s pleased to see Maddux spending time with 24-year-old Chad Billingsley and 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw and Maddux sat together on the Dodgers’ bench Tuesday, with Kershaw later saying that Maddux shared his ideas on what could be done in certain situations.
Kershaw said he has found Maddux to be extremely approachable, which is the way Martin found him two years ago.
“He’s going to keep it loose,” Martin said.