06/25/08 6:07 PM ET
Campillo steps up in series finale win
Braves lean on right-hander to beat odds as injuries plague team
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"If you want to look at a true pitcher, he's the epitome of one," Braves manager Bobby Cox said after Campillo led the Braves to a 4-2 win over the Brewers at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon.
Campillo, who limited the Brewers to two earned runs and four hits in seven innings, has proven to be one of the primary reasons the Braves remain just four games behind the Phillies, despite the fact that their rotation and lineup have both been wrecked by injuries.
In the eight starts Campillo has made since moving from the bullpen to the rotation on May 20, he has gone 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA. Since losing the blister that bothered him earlier this season, he has pitched into the seventh inning in three consecutive starts.
Had John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Mike Hampton not suffered injuries that removed them from the rotation mix, they'd have been hard-pressed to be pitching any better than Campillo, who has proven to be a definite gift since signing with the Braves as a Minor League free agent on Dec. 26.
"I don't even know how many starts he's had," Cox said. "But they've all been on the excellent side. He looks like a class veteran pitcher to me."
After allowing a pair of run-scoring doubles to Mike Rivera and Rickie Weeks in the Brewers' two-run third inning, Campillo ended his day by retiring 14 of the final 15 batters that he faced. His stability combined Kelly Johnson's two-hit performance allowed the Braves to prevent a three-game series sweep and at least split this six-game homestand.
"He never misses his spots," said Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who accounted for two of Campillo's six strikeouts. "He really doesn't make many, if any mistakes, at all. You just have to go up there and battle. This was one of those days when you can't try to do too much and when you do, you don't have any success. Give him credit, he pitched great."
In addition, Campillo provided a spark to a Braves lineup that was missing both Chipper Jones (right quad) and Yunel Escobar (left shoulder). His first career two-hit game included singles that allowed him to score in both the third and fifth innings against Brewers starter Jeff Suppan.
Johnson's third-inning, two-run double erased the Brewers' brief lead and his fifth-inning RBI single provided the two-run cushion that would remain through the point that Mike Gonzalez completed a scoreless ninth inning and allowed the Braves to gain some momentum heading into this weekend's trip to Toronto.
"At this point of the season, we've got to start picking it up," Johnson said. "Right now, we're not that far out of it. We just have to win some games, get everybody healthy and then see what happens."
While converting the only two save opportunities he's had since returning last week, Gonzalez has provided the bullpen some stability. Now Cox's injury-related concerns center around his infielders. With Jones and Escobar already out of the lineup, Omar Infante strained his right hamstring while rounding first base on his way to a second-inning double.
Infante's exit left the Braves with Greg Norton as the only available infielder on the bench and he has played a total of seven career games at a middle infield position. As for Ruben Gotay, who played third base again on Wednesday, he's never played the shortstop position.
When Infante exited, Brent Lillibridge entered to play shortstop. In the eighth inning, the speedy Lillibridge doubled into the left-field corner for his first career hit.
Even with a makeshift lineup, Campillo provided Cox reason to relax and enjoy what was his team's fourth victory in its last 10 games. The right-hander allowed a bunt single to begin the third inning and then saw Rivera direct an RBI double over Brandon Jones' head in left field. Two batters later, Weeks produced an RBI double that hit off Lillibridge and made its way into left field.
From there, Corey Hart's seventh-inning double served as the Brewers' only offense against Campillo, whose success has been a product of his ability to keep opponents off balance with a variety of pitches and consistent control.
"When I first saw him pitch, I said he's going to continue to do this because everything he throws is just funky and goes in a different direction," Johnson said. "He throws a changeup that sinks and a changeup that cuts. You can't really look for anything and you can't really sit on anything. He's been awesome. I don't know what else to say about him."
When Campillo signed in December, former Brave Vinny Castilla called Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez and told him that he'd seen this right-hander throw in the Mexican League and regarded him as something special. A few months later, Perez understood why.
"I saw him in Spring Training and I said, 'This kid is amazing,'" Perez said. "Everybody that saw him said the same thing."
During a majority of his playing career, Perez served as Greg Maddux's personal catcher. Thus, it seemed fitting to ask him if he understood why some have labeled Campillo to be the "Mexican Maddux."
Immediately, Perez smiled and said, "I like that one."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.