MESA, Ariz. Paul Maholm shrugged his shoulders several times. He described himself as a quiet guy from a small town, who plans to go home to Mississippi when its all done. He came across as thoughtful and secure in his identity.
Maholm did not seem to be on edge, even after a bad flu case, or easily rattled. That should help him in going from the low-pressure environment around the Pittsburgh Pirates to Wrigley Field.
The Cubs have Matt Garza, who always seems to be making noise, and Ryan Dempster at the top of their rotation. The final two spots are up for grabs, with Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood among the contenders.
In the middle sits Maholm, the No. 3 starter who signed a free-agent contract that qualified as a splash for the Cubs this winter (4.25 million this season, with a 6.5 million club option for 2013).
Maholm, 29, never played for a Pirates team that won more than 72 games in a season. He had shown enough at Mississippi State University to become the eighth overall pick in the 2003 draft. His career record is 53-73 with a 4.36 ERA.
Have I thought I pitched better than that? Maholm said Tuesday. Yeah, but its there. Its in the books. Im not going to worry about what my record is. Were starting with a clean slate and I want to take the ball every fifth day and expect to win.
Im going to do everything I can (and) Im going to have every bit of confidence in the guys to put up runs and make the plays (behind me because) Im not a strikeout guy.
Manager Dale Sveum pointed to Maholms 3.66 ERA last year. The left-hander has also accounted for more than 1,100 innings in the majors. Thats a rotation lock.
He knows what hes doing out there, Sveum said, and anyone who saw what the lack of rotation depth did to the Cubs in 2011 knows what the manager is talking about.
Hes got four pitches that he can command and when hes keeping his sinker down in the strike zone, hes very, very effective in (using it) to get quick outs.
Maholm broke the news of his signing on Twitter, where he has almost 20,000 followers. The Roberto Clemente Award winner has used social media to reveal parts of his life, and from here its sometimes hard to understand why a professional athlete would open up like that in a gotcha culture.
I think Im pretty smart about trying to do the right thing, Maholm said. Im a Christian and Id like to hopefully have a platform to help others and with that comes charity work and other things that me and my wife have done in Pittsburgh.
Thats part of Twitter. Thats part of me. Im not going to shy away from it. Im not going to blast the team or any of that through my Twitter account. Its a way for fans to get to know me and interact with them and (let them) see the type of person and husband that I strive to be.
Maholm got into it with some Pittsburgh fans several weeks ago on Twitter after the Steelers lost an NFL playoff game to Tim Tebows Denver Broncos.
I thought it was a great story, he said. I dont think all athletes are necessarily role models, or they shouldnt be, but if youre going to put (up) a guy whos got the right values and the right work ethic, (Tebows) the guy right now.
I dont think you see him asking for interviews, holding press conferences on his own. Hes open. Hes going to talk. He comes off as one of the nicest guys (around). Sure, theres some overkill, but I think that comes with (todays) technology.
That last line might as well describe life around the Cubs and inside the cramped clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Maholm says hes looking forward to having 40,000 fans right on top of him.
Thats what you want, Maholm said. Thats what you play for.