Paul Maholm showed occasional flashes of excellence, but never lived up to his potential in seven years with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
If his first three starts of 2013 are any indication, he's finally doing it in his first full season with the Atlanta Braves.
Maholm has yet to allow a run in three convincing victories, a streak he'd love to continue Saturday night at PNC Park against the club that drafted him.
The left-hander was the eighth pick in the 2003 draft by Pittsburgh but was unable to establish himself as a front-line starter with the Pirates (8-8), going 53-73 with a 4.36 ERA from 2005-11.
After signing with the Cubs in 2012, Maholm was shipped to Atlanta in late July and posted a 3.54 ERA in his final 11 starts.
His beginning to 2013 has been spotless. He went 7 2-3 innings in his latest impressive outing, limiting Washington to four hits and striking out seven in a 9-0 victory Sunday.
Maholm (3-0, 0.00 ERA) is the sixth pitcher since 1920 to begin a season with three straight scoreless starts of at least five innings, and only the third since 1966 - joining Woody Williams (2003) and Zack Greinke (2009).
"Pauly has been outstanding, unbelievable," center fielder B.J. Upton told the Braves' official website.
Heading to the visitors' clubhouse at PNC on Saturday won't seem that odd for Maholm since he started there three times last season, going 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Maholm gave up two runs and five hits - including a homer to Starling Marte - over seven innings of a 2-1 loss Oct. 1, his lone outing in Pittsburgh with Atlanta.
Marte got a night off Friday after striking out five times in the series opener, but the Pirates' offense was just fine without its leadoff hitter. Pedro Alvarez homered for the second night in a row, one of his team's five extra-base hits in a 6-0 win.
"The last few days have been pretty good for me. I'm getting in some kind of rhythm now and I'm stringing some good at_bats together," said Alvarez, who may find things tougher Saturday as he's 1 for 24 with 13 strikeouts against lefties since Sept. 23. "Hopefully, things are starting to turn for me. I feel good at the plate.'
Pittsburgh's bats may have been overshadowed Friday by a pitching staff that allowed two hits and faced the minimum 27 hitters for the first time since July 25, 1982 - also against the Braves.
Atlanta (13-3) has been shut out in all three of its defeats, but another off night at the plate Saturday may be unlikely.
That's because the Braves will be facing James McDonald (1-2, 5.27), who gave up eight runs - three earned - and eight hits in 1 2-3 innings of a 10-6 loss to St. Louis on Monday.
McDonald fell to 4-7 with a 7.11 ERA in 16 games - 15 starts - since the All-Star break. With Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton due back in May, the right-hander's rotation spot may be on the line.
"I don't want to speculate right now," manager Clint Hurdle told the team's official website. "... I need to sit down and really talk to the guy. I haven't seen anything glaring, but we saw what you saw as far as velocity, finish and command."
McDonald, though, might actually be happy to see the Braves. He's 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA against Atlanta in four starts as a Pirate, striking out 28 in 26 innings.
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