Webb set to throw a curve at Cubs

Webb set to toss a curve at Cubs

PHOENIX -- He's been here before, only it wasn't the postseason and it wasn't October.

Just because Arizona starting pitcher Brandon Webb doesn't have an inkling of playoff experience doesn't mean that he hasn't been battle-tested or hasn't had to execute tough pitches in critical situations and in important games.

Webb has done just that, only it happened in the regular season, especially in the second half when his postseason primer, as it was, amounted to traversing his way through what was baseball's most competitive division -- the National League West.

"Our division went from a couple years ago from being one of the worst divisions to one of the best," said Webb, who gets the start for the Diamondbacks on Wednesday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Cubs at Chase Field.

"This division was very tough ... pitching wise and all the way through, everyone's lineup was pretty tough. What we did do in this division prepared us for where we're going to be [Wednesday]."

It was a strong second-half showing (10-4, 2.56 ERA), especially against division foes that helped the Diamondbacks reach the postseason.

During the last three months of the regular season alone, Webb knocked off Los Angeles twice and Colorado, San Francisco and San Diego once each.

How big were these victories? Consider the Diamondbacks won the division by one game over the Rockies and a mere 1 1/2 games over the Padres. They did so with Webb leading the charge.

"He's a pretty composed guy, you can't really tell if things bother him out there or not," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "He's pitched in some big games. "

Webb might have faced the most pressure this season Friday against Colorado at Chase Field, when he held the red-hot Colorado Rockies to two runs in eight innings in a 4-2 victory that clinched a playoff spot.

"That was as difficult a game for him to have to deal with as he's had to deal with all year," Melvin said. "There was a lot of pressure on that game. That was a game we needed to have, the one team that he's kind of struggled against. He did it against a team as hot as anyone in baseball."

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Webb, who was 18-10 with a 3.10 ERA during the regular season, was certainly a much better pitcher in the second half than the first half, as evidenced by the stretch of 42 consecutive scoreless innings that, oddly enough, started in a loss to the Cubs on July 20.

That was Webb's only meeting with the Cubs this season. He limited Chicago to just two earned runs (five overall) in seven innings. For his career, Webb is 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA in seven starts.

Speaking of the streak, it not-so-coincidentally occurred at a time when Webb was turning his season around, as he went from 8-8 with a 3.38 ERA to, when the streak ended, 13-8 with a 2.63 ERA, helping propel the Diamondbacks to the top of the NL West.

So what changed?

Webb learned to trust his secondary pitches much more, which was born out of necessity, as National League hitters were certainly geared up to see Webb's sinker a few times in each at-bat. But once Webb got a grip on the command of his curveball and changeup, he flourished.

"I think that he's able to rely on other things if his sinker isn't there," Melvin said. "If the command of it isn't good, he looks for other places to go. His changeup is a lot better, his curveball is better. He's got some other weapons to go to, where in other years he hasn't."

Catcher Chris Snyder said it's not just having the ability to throw those secondary pitches that has made Webb successful, but knowing when to throw them and just how to balance them with his sinker.

"I would say those pitches are more refined, he has a better feel for them," Snyder said. "He knows how to complement them with his sinker. That's been important."

So have the games that got the Diamondbacks into the postseason, in many of which Webb was on the mound. He has important games on his side, even if they happened in July, August and September.

"Obviously, I haven't been in any postseason, not even in the Minor Leagues have I had this opportunity," he said. "But I'm going to take it just like a game that I would go out and pitch during the regular season. I'm going to go out and attack and execute regular pitches."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.