Camp more mainstay than short stay

When veteran joined Cubs it seemed unlikely durable reliever would lead NL in appearances

MESA, Ariz. — Shawn Camp walked into Cubs camp late last March. It was only 10 days before opening day and he knew four people in the room.

Luckily for Camp, one of those four was manager Dale Sveum. And perhaps even better for Camp, there were few teams more in need of solid relief pitching than the one that quickly claimed him on waivers when the Mariners sent him packing six weeks after signing him.

"This sounds like a funny thing to say,'' Camp, 37, said. "But it was a blessing when I got released. I had a great spring but I got cut because they wanted to put a starter in the bullpen. Those are the kind of things that happen when you're one of the guys on the margins, and that's what I always seem to be.''

Not with the Cubs, he's not. Not after the way he pitched in 2012, when Sveum put him in a National League-high 80 games, including one only three days after he had surrendered hits to all seven Pirates he faced, the most consecutive hits a reliever ever had allowed.

"That was so great that they put me right back into a game after that one,'' Camp said. "You have to have a short memory to be a relief pitcher. That's what I tell the younger guys. If you can't forget the bad things that happen, you won't last long enough to experience the good things. Not when you do what we do.''

It's easy to overlook Camp on a Cubs team where the spotlight is on young regulars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo as well as guys who will open the season in Class A, especially Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora. But there are hundreds of todays before President Theo Epstein's organization will reach the tomorrow it is working toward, and not every positive development involves the 25-and-under set.

Lightning can be found in all kinds of bottles, and Camp is proof. He was not only the NL's most durable reliever but he was more effective than most would have guessed when he arrived after many others had failed to claim bullpen jobs.

Despite that ugly day in Pittsburgh, he ranked 22nd in WHIP (1.29) among 48 NL relievers who worked at least 60 innings. He allowed only seven of 22 inherited runners to score.

"With everything else that happened to us last year, Camp was huge,'' said Sveum, who had managed him in Altoona, Pa., in 2001 and '03. "He and (James) Russell were guys we could count on.''

If there was a key for Camp's success, it's that pitching coach Chris Bosio didn't say no when Camp decided to throw out of the windup, not the stretch.

"I just did it in a game one day,'' Camp said. "I had done it (in the bullpen) but not in a game since I was at George Mason (University). I really like it. I feel more athletic, less defensive.''

Given that the Cubs were in the process of losing 100 games for the first time since 1966, Sveum left himself open to criticism as he used Camp and Russell (77 appearances, sixth in the NL) more than the champion Giants used Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. But Camp never told Sveum he wasn't available for a game and he's not going to complain now.

"These guys are great,'' Camp said. "There were a few days I was warming up and (bullpen coach Lester Strode) stepped in front of me and said, 'That's enough.' He literally wouldn't let me throw another pitch. He's a coach but he became one of the best friends I have.''

Camp, a nine-year veteran with 512 career appearances in the big leagues, has a common bond with Epstein and Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president for scouting and player personnel. They all started their pro careers at about the same time with the Padres, but it is coincidence that brought them back together, not old ties.

McLeod remembers Camp as a senior draftee (16th round) who exceeded expectations. Epstein and McLeod were involved in the considerations that led to Camp being traded from the Padres to the Pirates for outfielder Emil Brown in 2001. The guy the Padres hated to give up in the deal was minor league outfielder Shawn Garrett, who has been out of baseball since '08.

Camp just keeps taking the ball and counting his blessings.

"I love being with this team,'' he said. "There's no place else I would rather be.''

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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