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Washington Nationals: Matt Capps - The Return Of The Fastball.

WASHINGTON - APRIL 08:  Matt Capps #55 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after the final out in a 6-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on April 8, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 08: Matt Capps #55 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after the final out in a 6-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on April 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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Matt Capps, the Nats' 27-year-old, 6'2'', 245lb closer, was quoted late last February inan AP article posted at KFFL.com entitled, "Capps going back to fastball", promising that in 2010, the former Pirates' closer, who was coming off what was, statistically at least, the worst of his six MLB campaigns, was, "...going back to his fastball this spring after relying too heavily on his breaking pitches last season." Capps threw fastballs 78.6% of the time in 2008, but his fastball total dropped to (68.7%) in 2009, as he relied more on his slider, throwing one of every four pitches (25.0%) in '09, after he'd thrown them just 14.8% of the time the previous season. In explaining the struggles that would eventually lead to the Pirates' non-tendering their '02 7th Round pick leaving him free to sign in DC, Capps told the AP reporter:

"'I left a lot of pitches up. I felt like I tried to rely on my breaking ball and my changeup a lot more than I had in the past," Capps said. "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.'"

Given his first chance to close out a Nationals' win last night, Capps kept his promise, throwing a fastball that was hitting as high as 95-96 mph for 9 of 10 pitches, with four intentional balls thrown into his pitch total, as he gave up a leadoff double to Chase Ultey, an intentional walk to Ryan Howard and then retired three straight batters, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino, all of whom popped or flew out without Utley scoring the tying run in what ended up a 6-5 Nats' win.

• (ed. note - "Just as I was writing this, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) sent out the following Tweet,"):

"Scout says #Nationals' Capps was throwing 94-95 when he escaped 1st-3rd, 1 out jam vs. #Phillies on Thur. 'Best I've seen him in while.'"

In July 2008, Capps suffered an injury to his pitching arm which was diagnosed as, "bursitis and internal rotation deficit in his right shoulder," that left the then-24-year-old right-hander with significantly decreased velocity on his fastball, as he told MLB.com writer Jennifer Langosch at the time in an 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.'"

On the year in 2008, Capps saved 21 games, allowing 47 hits (7.9 H/9), 5 walks (0.8 BB/9) and 18 ER in 49 G and 53.2 IP over which the Pirates' reliever posted a 3.02 ERA, 139 ERA+, 3.28 FIP and 0.97 WHIP, but in 2009, Capps seemed to lose something, giving up 73 hits (12.1 H/9), 17 walks (2.8 BB/9) and 35 ER in 57 games and 54.1 IP in which he recorded a career high 27 saves while striking out 46 (7.6 K/9) and posted a 5.80 ERA, 71 ERA+, 4.90 FIP and 1.66 WHIP.

After giving up 17 hits, 7 walks and 10 ER in 12 G and 11.2 IP this Spring, Capps looked like he'd continue to struggle in his first appearance of 2010 on Wednesday night against Philadelphia, where it seemed like Capps had maybe questioned his commitment to his fastball as he threw 24 pitches (13 for strikes) that broke down: 16 fastballs, (that were mostly 93-94 mph topping out at 95), 5 sliders and 2 changeups. In a non-save situation, Capps gave up a run-scoring double to Ryan Howard (unearned because of an error that put Chase Utley on), and two five-pitch walks to Shane Victorino and catcher Carlos Ruiz before he finally struck out the opposing pitcher Ryan Madson on four straight fastballs to end a long inning. 

Called on to close last night, Capps stuck with the fastball, dialed it up to a mid-90's speed fans didn't see much of this Spring and earned his first save with Washington, while continuing the DC Closer Tradition established by Chad Cordero, Jon Rauch and Joel Hanrahan before him. The question is whether or not Capps will have a chance to establish his own identity as a closer in the nation's capital, because Drew Storen, barring any minor league setbacks, is on his way up, and Capps is on a one-year deal and under control for next season, which, if he continues to throw like he did last night, could make him attractive to a contender this July when the trade deadline rolls around...