WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: Chris Narveson #38 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. All players, coaches and umpires are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
At this exact moment, Milwaukee's Chris Narveson is seriously out-pitching Philadelphia's Cliff Lee.
Specifically, Narveson has pitched five innings and allowed just one hit.
Lee has pitched six innings and allowed three runs.
It's only half a game and the odds are exceptionally good that Cliff Lee will finish the season with better numbers than Chris Narveson.
Still, after three (and-a-half) starts, Narveson's got a 1.14 ERA and we might begin to wonder, who is this guy?
Eleven years ago, Narveson was the Cardinals' second-round pick in the June draft. After two professional seasons, he'd established himself as a real prospect. At which point he stalled. He moved up the ladder, but slowly, and in different organizations. A strong half-season in Triple-A in 2006 got him a quick trial with the Cardinals -- during his second stint with the organization -- but in 2007 he spent most of the season sidelined by injuries.
In 2008, Narveson pitched for the Brewers' Triple-A club ... and went 6-13 with a 5.43 ERA.
At that point, what sort of odds could you have gotten on him out-pitching Cliff Lee in the spring of 2011?
Anyway, the Brewers didn't give up on him, and he pitched better in 2009 (though mostly in relief), both in Triple-A and with the big club. That got him, finally, a full season in the majors in 2010, and he won a dozen games with a 4.99 ERA that could have been better.
Narveson's a strikeout pitcher, even though he rarely breaks 90 with his fastball. According to Baseball Prospectus, "Narveson pitches backward, using three off-speed pitches to set up his upper-80s fastball, changing eye levels and crossing his fingers that all the resulting fly balls stay in the yard -- though part of his success [in 2010] stemmed from a higher ground-ball rate."
Narveson nibbles, and the strikeouts come with a fair number of walks, too. This season, his success has been due largely to the fact that he's not allowed even a single home run in his four starts.
That's not going to continue. But it doesn't need to continue. With Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and eventually Zack Greinke, all the Brewers need is a decent fifth starter. And while Narveson's ERA is heading north soon, he's good enough to pitch for probably half the teams in the majors.
Update: At literally the exact second I hit the publish button on the above, Narveson gave up a three-run, game-tying home run to Placido Polanco. Such is life for a No. 5 starter ...