PHOENIX -- Josh Collmenter's rookie season hardly could have started out better than it did. Now, the D-backs really need him to finish strong in October as well.
Collmenter's next start is obviously the most important one of his young career, as the D-backs give the 25-year-old the ball for Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Brewers on Tuesday night at Chase Field with Arizona facing a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series.
It's a heady assignment for the right-hander with the unconventional delivery, but he's ready for the challenge.
"I'm excited," Collmenter said. "That's what you pitch all the games during the regular season for, to get to these games that matter, that count. I'm looking forward to the opportunity. We'll be back at home and the game time is close to a normal game, so it's as close as it could be to a normal start."
Collmenter's 2011 season often went beyond the normal. Finishing 10-10 with a 3.38 ERA, Collmenter established himself as a key ingredient in the D-backs' surge to the top of the NL West and into the playoffs.
A big part of the reason for his success is that Collmenter is over the top, and anyone who has heard him speak knows that's not a comment on his personality. His delivery -- from behind his head, over it and practically straight downward -- has been perplexing hitters all year. D-backs manager Kirk Gibson calls him "Ferris wheel" and says the delivery provides a good contrast to those of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, Arizona's first two starters in the series.
Loves to face: Willie Bloomquist,
1-for-7 Hates to face: Justin Upton, 2-for-6
Loves to face: Rickie Weeks, 0-for-6 Hates to face:
Prince Fielder, 2-for-5
Why he'll win: 2-0, 0.60 in last two road starts
(1 ER, 15 innings, 15 K, 0 BB)
Why he'll win: Hasn't allowed a run to Brewers in two starts
Pitcher beware: Gave up season-high seven runs
on 10 hits in last start
Pitcher beware: Ryan Braun wasn't in Brewers lineup during
Bottom line: Road warrior
Bottom line: Rookie on the rise
"He's just deceiving," Gibson said of Collmenter. "He throws the ball from way up [over his head], locates the ball well, elevates it, moves it in and out. He's got a great changeup. And he'll also use his curveball at times to surprise people."
Gibson said several factors came into play when deciding to peg Collmenter for the critical Game 3 start instead of veteran left-hander Joe Saunders, including the fact that Saunders jammed his hand in batting practice before his last regular-season start. Another is the unique delivery Collmenter brings to the plate, one Collmenter says he learned throwing hatchets as a youngster in Michigan.
He stuck with it through college ball and into the pros, and the D-backs are thankful now that no one tweaked it, as is Collmenter.
"Last year in Double-A, I was trying to come up with a reason why I might have [that delivery], and that's the only thing that could ever really explain it to me," Collmenter said. "So whether that actually played into it or not, it's definitely unique, and something I didn't really discover about myself until later on in my career, not until the senior year in high school. I assumed I threw like everybody else, from a normal arm angle."
That arm angle helped get him to the big leagues, but perhaps the biggest reason he got the nod for Game 3 is his success against the Brewers in his two starts against them.
In back-to-back outings in July, he shut them out for six innings on three hits and then blanked them for eight innings -- his longest start of the season. He walked just one batter during those two outings, striking out 10 without allowing an extra-base hit in either one of them. He's the only pitcher in baseball to have held the Brewers scoreless in more than 10 innings against them this year.
"It gives you confidence that if you execute your game plan you can get these guys out," he said.
It should be noted Brewers MVP candidate Ryan Braun didn't play in either of those games, hobbled by a calf strain at the time. Braun, 6-for-8 in the NLDS thus far, has studied video of Collmenter and came away knowing it'll be a challenge to pick up the ball out of his hand.
Said Braun: "He's definitely deceptive, and when you get to this point in the season, the numbers don't lie. ... I personally haven't faced him, so I don't really know too much what I'm getting myself into. I know his delivery is a little bit awkward; it's not something you see every day."
Collmenter knows he has to study up as well, because we're a long way from July and the Brewers have had time to examine why he did so well against them.
We're also a long way from April, but it's hard to forget the way Collmenter broke into the big leagues.
Just how good a start to his career was it? In a word: historic.
After posting a 1.29 ERA through seven relief appearances to start his career, Collmenter allowed two hits over six shutout innings in each of his first two starts -- becoming only the second pitcher since 1900 to win his first two big league starts by going at least six innings and allowing no more than two hits, the other being Texas' Alexi Ogando, also this season.
Collmenter wound up becoming the first pitcher since the earned run was invented in 1912 to give up just four earned runs on 20 hits in his first six career starts, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"They say it's harder to stick here than get here. I wanted to make sure I can prove myself at this level like I had the rest of them," Collmenter said.
Now we're looking at a whole new level for Collmenter with Tuesday's crucial start, and the D-backs hope he delivers like he has from the beginning.
"There's, I guess, a look about people when they get in certain situations that we've watched him throughout the year that leads us to believe he'll be fine in this environment," Gibson said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.