Camp’s a keeper

Starting pitching is the main ingredient to winning baseball, but Cubs manager Dale Sveum has been steadfast all season in singling out someone else as the ace of the staff–reliever Shawn Camp.

“Besides Alfonso Soriano, Shawn Camp probably has been our MVP,” he said Saturday. “If we don’t fill that void [at the back end of the bullpen] with him, it would have been even tougher times.”

That wouldn’t have seemed likely when Camp, 36, came to the Cubs in spring after he was cut by the Seattle Mariners, who had just signed him to a one-year contract a month earlier.

Camp signed a minor league deal with the Cubs, the first National League team he would play for after time with the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays.

Few signings have paid as big a return.

“In the off season, 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 off-season. 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, though 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 (35th save) barely hung on for the 7-6 victory, giving up two runs–including walking Luis Valbuena with the bases loaded–before striking out Dave Sappelt to end the game.

The victory ended the Pirates’ seven-game losing streak.

The Cubs and Camp have been a perfect match, though the irony of success is Camp’s 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 as well.

“It’s a young team and you have to start from somewhere,” he said of these Cubs. “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 help [young pitchers] along.

“They’re young and they ask questions, and I’ve been around a while. 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,” he added. “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.”

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