Cubs manager Dale Sveum has high praise for setup man Shawn Camp
BY TONI GINNETTI firstname.lastname@example.org September 15, 2012 11:54PM
Cubs reliever Shawn Camp has 51 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 71 innings. He has made 73 appearances. | Pat Sullivan~AP
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:45AM
Cubs manager Dale Sveum has been steadfast all season in singling out reliever Shawn Camp as the staff ace.
‘‘Besides Alfonso Soriano, Shawn Camp probably has been our MVP,’’ Sveum said.
‘‘If we don’t fill that void [at the back end of the bullpen] with him, it would have been even tougher times.’’
That level of performance didn’t seem likely when Camp, 36, came to the Cubs in the spring after being cut by the Seattle Mariners, who had signed him to a one-year contract a month earlier.
Camp signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs, his first National League team after playing for the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays.
Few signings have yielded as big a return.
‘‘In the offseason, I had no idea where I would be,’’ Camp said. ‘‘This was a good opportunity, coming to the National League and a fresh start.
‘‘I worked really hard this offseason. I like to go into every year thinking it could be your last. It drives you a little bit.’’
Camp could end up leading the majors in appearances, but he had a day off Saturday as he watched his teammates nearly pull off a ninth-inning comeback against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan barely hung on for the 7-6 victory, giving up two runs — including one when he walked Luis Valbuena with the bases loaded — before striking out right fielder Dave Sappelt to end the game.
The victory snapped the Pirates’ seven-game losing streak.
The Cubs and Camp have been a perfect match, though the irony of his success is that his strong season (3.55 ERA, 51 strikeouts to 19 walks in 71 innings) will make him an attractive commodity as a free agent after the season.
‘‘He’s a very valuable commodity who can pitch in multiple situations,’’ Sveum said.
‘‘He’s the type of pitcher you want to see out there because he throws strikes, and you don’t seem him imploding with walks.’’
Camp has been an asset as a teacher, too.
‘‘It’s a young team, and you have to start from somewhere,’’ Camp said. ‘‘I think everyone knows they have a job and a role. I have a job, too, to not only take the field every day but also to help [young pitchers] along.
‘‘They’re young and they ask questions, and I’ve been around awhile. It feels good to help young guys have some success and grow as players.
‘‘I felt I’ve learned a lot more this year than I have in the past, too. That’s what it’s about — learning and growing every year.
‘‘A lot of times when you get opportunities like this, you want to run with it. That’s what I felt I’ve done, and hopefully I can continue doing it for the Cubs in the future.
‘‘I like it here. It’s a great place to play. There are 40,000 people here every day. They cheer for you here. They cheer for you on the road. I feel comfortable here.
‘‘If I take care of myself, I think the rest will work itself out.’’
NOTE: Power-hitting prospect Jorge Soler , 20, saw Wrigley Field for the first time, taking batting practice before leaving Sunday for the fall instructional league in Arizona.
‘‘It felt good,’’ Soler said. ‘‘At first I was a little bit intimidated because I was never in a big-league park before, but then it felt comfortable.’’
The native of Cuba, who signed a $30 million contract in June, batted before a throng of observers, including team president Theo Epstein; Soler’s agent, Barry Praver; and Soler’s father, Jorge Sr.