Can Duncan pull another rabbit out of his hat?

For as bad as Jeff Suppan has been for Milwaukee this year, his first start for the Cardinals may not have been a fluke.

In fact, Dave Duncan has a rather remarkable record of rehabbing pitchers quickly after getting them during the season.

On August 2, 2001, the Cardinals acquired Woody Williams from San Diego for Ray Lankford. Williams had gone 8-8 for the Padres, posting a 4.97 ERA. In fact, to that point in his big league career, Woody had gone 75-73 with just one sub 4.00 ERA in six full seasons as a starter. However, in his very first start as a Cardinal under Duncan, Williams delivered six shutout innings against Florida and went on to a 7-1 record with the Cardinals with a 2.28 ERA. Winning percentage went way up, ERA was cut by more than half.

The next year, the Cardinals got Chuck Finley from Cleveland. Finley had gone 4-11 with a 4.44 ERA with the Tribe, but came to St. Louis and went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA.

In 2003, it was Sterling Hitchcock who came over from the Yankees. He was banished to the bullpen in New York, going 1-3 with a 5.44 ERA. With Duncan and the Cardinals, he turned around his season and went 5-1 with a 3.79.

Joel Piniero was sent to the minors by the ’07 Red Sox, but came to St. Louis and by his second start turned in seven shutout innings, and went 6-4 for that club with a 3.96 ERA.

It goes on and on. Way back in 1998, the Cardinals traded Todd Stottlemyre to Texas for Darren Oliver. Oliver’s ERA improved more than two runs a game under Duncan. We all know the story of Jeff Weaver, who came to Duncan and got hot for the 2006 post-season. Jamey Wright went 2-0 with the ’02 Birds after a miserable run in Milwaukee. Todd Wellemeyer had a 10.34 ERA as a reliever when he was released by Kansas City, and turned in a 3-2 mark with a 3.11 ERA under Duncan. In 2008, Kyle Lohse arrived in the middle of spring training, and became the best he’d ever been right off the bat. Last year, John Smoltz had an 8.33 ERA in Boston, and a 4.26 under Duncan.

Sure, there have been failures. Duncan couldn’t revive Fernando Valenzuela in 1997 or Bobby Witt in 1998. Mike Maroth certainly comes to mind.

But the positives dramatically outweigh the negatives with Duncan. If he gets a veteran starter during the season, it’s likely that pitcher is going to succeed for the rest of the season. And Suppan gave Cardinal fans reason to believe with his performance against Seattle.