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updated: 6/29/2012 6:29 PM

Maholm's aggressiveness gives Cubs a lift

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  • Cubs starter Paul Maholm led the way in shutting out Houston on Friday at Wrigley Field, working fast and efficiently for the win.

      Cubs starter Paul Maholm led the way in shutting out Houston on Friday at Wrigley Field, working fast and efficiently for the win.
    Associated Press

  • Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, right, celebrates with catcher Steve Clevenger after beating the Houston Astros 4-0 Friday. Starter Paul Maholm pitched into the ninth before Marmol closed out the game.

      Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, right, celebrates with catcher Steve Clevenger after beating the Houston Astros 4-0 Friday. Starter Paul Maholm pitched into the ninth before Marmol closed out the game.
    Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs center fielder David DeJesus catches a fly ball hit by Houston Astros' Brian Bixler during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Friday, June 29, 2012.

      Chicago Cubs center fielder David DeJesus catches a fly ball hit by Houston Astros' Brian Bixler during the sixth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Friday, June 29, 2012.

 
 

Maybe the dry heat didn't agree with Paul Maholm and the wet heat did.

After getting cuffed around in the desert last Saturday in Arizona, Maholm waited out an hour rain delay Friday at Wrigley Field and refused to wilt.

He pitched 8 shutout innings as the Cubs blanked the Houston Astros 4-0.

"In Arizona, I didn't make some pitches and wasn't able to get out of a jam I put myself in," said Maholm, who improved to 5-6 and lowered his ERA from 5.38 to 4.84. "Today, it was just be aggressive early down in the zone, make them put the ball in play. The guys made some great plays."

Maholm had quick innings all day, tossing 8 pitches in the second inning, 9 in the fourth and only 5 in the seventh.

He took a pitch count of 91 into the ninth but allowed a leadoff single to Brian Bixler and a one-out double to Carlos Lee before giving way to Carlos Marmol, who earned his sixth save.

"He was outstanding, all his pitches," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, whose club improved to 27-49. "Curveball, changeup, kept it down. I think he had probably as good a sink as I've seen in awhile. You could tell it right from the get-go.

"That was about as good as you can get. I wish he had kept the ball down the last inning and have been able to finish it. The inning before, I thought I saw him getting the ball up a little bit."

There's more good news for Maholm. He's scheduled to pitch in Atlanta next Wednesday, and early weather reports are calling for it to be hot and humid.

"In Arizona, that's one thing you've got to try and get over," he said. "They (pitches) don't break as much and do certain things. I had to make sure I stuck with my game plan. Didn't try to change a whole lot because of how the last game went.

"I wanted it (the complete game). But after the last outing, I'll take what I got. I usually pitch good in Atlanta, so I'm looking forward to getting in the hot and humid weather and letting my sinker work a little more."

The other half of the Cubs' battery was full charged, too. Rookie catcher Steve Clevenger worked well with Maholm and hit his first major-league home run in the fourth inning, a 2-run shot to right field. He joined Alfonso Soriano (No. 15) and Luis Valbuena (No. 3) as Cubs hitting homers, all off Astros starter Bud Norris (5-5).

The left-handed hitting Clevenger has been a revelation for the Cubs, behind the plate and up at bat.

"It's a dream come true," he said of the homer. "To hit a home run in the big leagues, it's a great feeling. More important, we got the victory and got the shutout."

If you put stock in catcher's ERA -- some observers do and some don't -- Clevenger's is 3.89, as he continues to show he was the correct choice to keep as the backup to Geovany Soto.

"The way he catches and calls a game, I think, is as much as anything," Sveum said. "He's left-handed and is going to put the bat on the ball. Today it was nice, he got his first home run, so that's kind of a monkey off your back when you get the first one. Offhand, I don't know what our earned run average is when he catches, but he seems to catch a lot of gems, that's for sure."

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