Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay earned the American League Pitcher of the Month honor after going 4-0 with a 2.28 ERA in April. In 47 1/3 innings of work, Halladay also had 33 strikeouts and threw two complete games, including a 10-inning outing against Detroit on April 13.
"He's a security blanket," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told BlueJays.com. "Very rarely does he get knocked around. He gives you a chance to win and you usually do win. He saves bullpens, he continues winning streaks, stops losing streaks and that's how you get things going."
One of the keys to success for Halladay is his preference to work quickly while out on the mound. The average time of game Halladay pitches in over the last five seasons is two hours, 37 minutes, the second fastest time in the Majors.
"I feel like I can stay in a rhythm a little bit better, and it's easier to stay aggressive when I'm working quickly," he said. "I'm always conscious of tempo and trying to keep [pitching] at a quick pace. If things aren't going good and I need to step off and gather myself a little bit, then I need to do that. When things are going good and you're getting ahead, then I like working quick."
It is the third time Halladay, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner, has earned Pitcher of the Month honors.
"He's like all of the great ones that have pitched in this game," Gibbons said. "You give them a little lead, they smell it, they turn it on, and it makes them that much tougher. It's tough to come back against that, I don't care how good your offense is."
Maine not satisfied with one good month: New York Mets pitcher John Maine is off to a great start, and his outstanding April was rewarded as he was named the National League Pitcher of the Month. Maine was 4-0 in April with a 1.35 ERA, the best in the Majors. In 33 1/3 innings, Maine allowed only five earned runs.
Maine, however, isn't ready to let his early success go to his head.
"I've still got a lot of stuff to work on," Maine told Mets.com. "I'm pleased, [but] I've got five more months. I've just got to keep it going. I've got to worry about May now."
Teammate Billy Wagner isn't surprised to see how well Maine is performing this season. Not after watching him go 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA during the regular season last year and then go 1-0 with a 2.64 ERA in the postseason.
"After what we saw [from Maine] in the playoffs ... a lot of us aren't that shocked," said Mets closer Billy Wagner. "He's got that ability."
Maine is the first Mets pitcher to win the award since Al Leiter in June 2000. He said his success can be attributed to learning how to pitch deeper into games.
"I'm learning to [stay in games] longer," Maine said. "I think I threw too many fastballs last year. Too many were getting fouled off and running up my pitch count. Now I'm in better shape and throwing better pitches. I think I get six more batters per game. If I'm still throwing well, that's two more innings. That really helps."
Owens excelling in closer role: Henry Owens wasn't slated to be the Marlins' closer this season. But with Jorge Julio on the disabled list, Owens has been thrust into that situation, and he's excelled.
"Nobody has come to me and said you're that guy, so I'm still just preparing down there physically and mentally like I can go in at any moment," Owens told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "It's nice to have an idea of when you're going to pitch. ... I try not to create any added pressure because it's the ninth. My focus is to go out there and pound the strike zone, and hopefully that's good enough for that night in whatever inning it may be."
In 15 2/3 innings this season, Owens has a 2.30 ERA and has limited batters to a .217 batting average. But Julio is expected to be activated from the disabled list this weekend, which will give manager Fredi Gonzalez a choice to make.
"He's got makeup, he's got stuff," said Gonzalez of Owens. "You look at his Minor League numbers, and his walks-to-innings are unbelievable. In that role, especially in a three-run save, you have to give up three, four, five hits in a row [to blow it] before somebody hits a ball at somebody and we turn a double play."
Odd mixture helps Penny: Brad Penny is off to a great start. He's 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA and the Dodgers have won five of the six games he has started this season. One of the reasons for Penny's success is his new regimen, which allows him to get a better grip on the ball. He picks up the rosin bag and then steps off the back of the mound and runs his fingers through his hair.
"The mixture of sweat and rosin gives me a better feel for my offspeed pitches," Penny told the Los Angeles Times. "I grab the rosin bag then add the sweat from my head."
The combination is legal as long as Penny does not stand on the mound when he goes to his hair. Penny also thinks the routine helps slow him down and gives him time to collect his thoughts before making a key pitch.
"I've been trying to pitch instead of just throw," he said. "When all my pitches are working, it's fun that way."
Penny is pitching effectively despite allowing 17 walks compared to 15 strikeouts. He claims that ratio is by design.
"I'm pitching to contact, trying to get guys to mis-hit the ball in fair territory rather than foul pitches off or miss altogether," Penny said.
Beckett matches the Rocket: In his second season with the Red Sox, Josh Beckett is showing the team just how good he can be. The right-hander became the first pitcher to win six games as he helped lead the Sox past the A's 6-4 in his last start.
Beckett is now 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA and is the first Boston pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1991 to win his first six starts in a season.
"He's a pitcher," Alex Cora told the Boston Globe. "He's a complete pitcher. It's night and day from last year."
Boston catcher Jason Varitek believes the biggest reason for Beckett's success this season is his ability to throw his secondary pitches, such as his curveball and changeup, with better command. That, in turn, has made his fastball more effective since hitters can't sit on it.
"His other pitches have become more effective," Varitek said after Beckett's three-run, six-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance. "But it's still, even with that, the location of his fastball is still key."
A-Rod was April's best: To no one's surprise, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was named the American League Player of the Month after a monster April.
Rodriguez hit .355, socked 14 home runs and drove in 34 runs. The home runs tied the record set by Albert Pujols of St. Louis last season and the RBI total was one shy of Juan Gonzalez's April record. The only Yankee to ever have a better month than Rodriguez's is Roger Maris, who had 15 home runs and 35 RBIs in June 1961.
Rodriguez has been named the Player of the Month eight times in his career now, four times as a Yankee. Rodriguez worked hard during the offseason to lose some body fat and shorten his swing, work that has obviously paid off.
"You pay the price and you expect to reap some rewards," Rodriguez told Yankees.com. "I don't worry about what happened yesterday or tomorrow. I'm worried about today."
In April, Rodriguez hit more home runs than five Major League teams and manager Joe Torre wouldn't be surprised to see the third baseman challenge Barry Bonds' single-season record of 73 home runs.
"If he stays healthy, I don't know what the limit would be for him," Torre said. "He's very talented, and he's gifted. He doesn't take his ability for granted -- he's out there working every day and trying to keep himself ready to play."
Cherry wins without delivering a pitch: Chicago Cubs rookie hurler Rocky Cherry picked up his first Major League win on Wednesday -- and never stepped foot on the diamond.
After recording two outs with two pitches in the sixth inning against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the game between the Cubs and Pirates was suspended due to rain and completed on Wednesday with the Cubs prevailing, 8-6.
"Two pitches," manager Lou Piniella told the Chicago Tribune. "You know what, though? They were both strikes."
Cherry recognized the rarity of earning a win on a day that he didn't even throw one pitch.
"That has to be about as easy as a win comes up here," Cherry said. "I was thinking about that [Tuesday] night. I was like, man, [Wednesday] I might get a victory and not even have to do anything."
Meche shows the mettle Royals wanted: Kansas City Royals starter Gil Meche got off to a bumpy start on Thursday, but despite a two-run, first inning home run he allowed to Vlad Guerrero, Meche didn't blink as the Royals posted a 5-2 win over the Angels.
"I am not going to let a two-run homer bother me," Meche told MLB.com. "He is a great hitter and he hit a good pitch and kept it fair. That was kind of our thing to do -- we wanted to pound him [inside] and we didn't get it up enough."
His ERA now 2.23, Meche looked like the No. 1 starter the Royals were seeking when they signed him in the offseason.
"I saw him shake off [the catcher] in my first at-bat and that told me he was confident," said Angels center fielder Gary Matthews. "He didn't tune it up past 94 [mph], he never really got in trouble, so he didn't have to tune it up a notch. He was feeling his breaking ball. He was able to locate it, both sides of the plate."
His catcher was impressed with his work.
"I think I have seen him with better stuff, not that the stuff that he threw today wasn't very good," John Buck said with a laugh. "But he made the pitches when he needed to. His location was better than anything today."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.