In an AP story yesterday out of Washington's Spring Training home in Viera, Florida posted at KFFL.com entitled, "Capps going back to fastball", DC closer candidate Matt Capps is quoted stating that he's, "...going back to his fastball this spring after relying too heavily on his breaking pitches last season." Following a 2008 season that saw Capps save 21 games while allowing 47 hits (7.9 H/9), 5 walks (0.8 BB/9) and 18 ER (3.02 ERA, 139 ERA+, 3.28 FIP) in 49 appearances and 53.2 IP in which he posted a 0.97 WHIP, Capps' numbers ballooned last season as he gave up 73 hits (12.1 H/9), 17 walks (2.8 BB/9) and 35 ER (5.80 ERA, 71 ERA+, 4.90 FIP) over 57 games and 54.1 IP in which he recorded a career high save total (27 S), while striking out 46 (7.6 K/9) and posting a 1.66 WHIP. Capps tells the AP reporter he believes it was not only pitch location, "I left a lot of pitches up," but his pitch selection, "I felt like I tried to rely on my breaking ball and my changeup a lot more than I had in the past," which resulted in what many, including the Pirates' Front Office (who decided to non-tender the reliever) saw as a significant step back:
"Matt Capps: "I went away from what got me to the point I was at. Being my first year coming off an injury, there was a lot of doubts and questions in my mind. I went out and proved to myself that I was healthy. It was just statistically a bad year for me."
After throwing fastballs 78.6% of the time in 2008, Capps fastball total dropped to (68.7%) as he clearly relied more on his slider last season, throwing benders for one of every four pitches (25.0%) in '09, whereas the previous season he'd thrown them just 14.8% of the time. The 2007 injury Capps references in the quote above was diagnosed as, "bursitis and internal rotation deficit in his right shoulder," which left Capps with significantly decreased velocity, as he told MLB.com writer Jennifer Langosch in a 7/2/08 article entitled, "Capps to be placed on disabled list":
"'I reached back for a pitch and tried to let it go, and looked up and saw it came in at 87 [mph],' Capps said over the phone on Wednesday. 'That's when I knew that something was physically wrong.'"
In a USA Today article posted yesterday entitled, "Phone-a-friend: Nats' Capps heeds ex-mates' advice", which recounts Capps' decision-making process in signing on in Washington this winter, the anonymous AP writer notes that Capps, "battled elbow discomfort," last season too, resulting in a marked decrease in, "...zip on his fastball." DC Skipper Jim Riggleman and the Nationals have faith in the closer, however, as Riggleman tells the AP writer that he likes what he's seen from the 26-year-old, 6'2'', 245lb right-hander so far in Spring Training:
"'He has a history of being in that role and he's throwing the ball nice and free and easy here. He throws strikes. ... I'm just real glad he's on board," Riggleman said."
Now the Nationals just have to give Capps enough save opportunities to justify the $3.5 million they're spending to have Capps as their closer this year.