The Washington Nationals tried eight pitchers in the closer's role last season, none of whom impressed enough to lock down the role on a full-time basis, so DC GM Mike Rizzo went out this winter and signed a closer, 26-year-old former Pirates' stopper Matt Capps, who'd been non-tendered by Pittsburgh, setting off a bidding war which surprisingly (to some) ended with the pitcher choosing to sign with Washington when several other more established teams were pursuing his services.
In 2008, Capps saved 21 games and gave up a total of 47 hits (7.9 H/9), 5 walks (0.8 BB/9) and 18 ER in 49 appearances and 53.2 IP over which the then-24-year-old right-hander posted a 3.02 ERA, 139 ERA+, 3.28 FIP and a 0.97 WHIP. Capps' numbers ballooned in 2009, when at 25-years-old, he surrendered 73 hits (12.1 H/9), 17 walks (2.8 BB/9) and 35 ER (5.80 ERA, 71 ERA+, 4.90 FIP) in 57 games and 54.1 IP, though he did manage to record a career high save total (27 S), while striking out 46 (7.6 K/9) and posting a 1.66 WHIP. The 26-year-old Capps has been dominant for the most part as the Nationals' stopper, converting 20 of 24 save opportunities while striking out 27 (7.8 K/9) batters and walking just 7 (2.0 BB/9) in 32 games and 31.1 IP, over which he's posted a 3.16 ERA,132 ERA+ and a 3.73 FIP, returning to his fastball, which he's thrown 77.8% of the time, whereas when he struggled last season he thought he'd begun to rely too much on his offspeed pitches, throwing his fastball just 68.7% of the time...
The 26-year-old closer, who (oddly?) enters the game to Europe's 80's staple "The Final Countdown" is the "Save" half or the "Clipp and Save" phenomenon that started in one of MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling's in-game chats, when reader Steve Repsher attached the moniker to the Nats' set-up man and closer as Mr. Goessling explained in a June 3, 2010 article entitled, "'Clip and Save' goes mainstream". On Tuesday (6/22/10), the first 10,000 fans to arrive at Nationals Park for the Nats' game against the Kansas City Royals, will receive their very own "Clipp and Save" t-shirt as part of the Nats' "T-Shirt Tuesday" promotional giveaway. Mr. Capps was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to Federal Baseball yesterday and answer a few questions I had about how he's embraced his role as the Nats' closer and been embraced in turn by the DC Faithful, who are happy to have a legitimate late-inning option after suffering through a few disheartening blown saves last season. What follows is the quick interview I conducted with Capps before yesterday's game:
Federal Baseball (FB): After pitching in Pittsburgh in front of relatively small crowds, what was it like closing out Stephen Strasburg's first game in front 40,000+ fans?
Matt Capps: "It was a lot of fun, you could feed of the intensity and everybody was excited so there was an electricity here that I haven't really felt a whole lot before, and it was fun, I look forward to doing it a lot more..."
FB: ...and how important was it to the bullpen to go out there and get the kid his first win?
Matt Capps: "Oh, that was the best part, being able to walk up these steps with a baseball in my hand and being able to hand it to him, it's the first of what everybody and myself included thinks will be a lot of them and I was just excited to be a part of that first one for him."
FB: What's it been like for you throwing to Pudge and is there any noticeable difference in what he calls for you to throw as opposed to other catchers you've worked with?
Matt Capps: "You just have a lot of confidence in what he puts down and his suggestions, and what he's trying to do to hitters, he's done it so long and he's been around it so long that you have an extra bit of confidence when he's back there, but to throw to him, I called a good friend of mine back home...the first day of Spring Training I was getting up to throw a bullpen and I look up and I see Pudge standing there and I got nervous. You know, it's a guy that's a first ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion, a great humanitarian, and a great person on top of what he's done in the game, and he's also a guy that I was nine years old at a major league game in Arlington, Texas and he was playing then, so to have the longevity and the success that he's had and now to be one of his teammates, it's pretty neat..."
FB: In Spring Training you recommitted to the fastball, and you've been throwing a lot more this year, is it because you're finally healthy and have faith in it again?
Matt Capps: "Yeah, I mean, I've felt pretty good most of the year, and just trying to locate it and throwing everything off of that, I felt like last year at times I fell in love with my offspeed stuff and I got in trouble a little bit instead of going out and competing which is what I felt like had made me so successful earlier in my career..."
FB: Twice recently you had saves locked down when missed calls on check swings cost you, what's it like to kinda try to come back and stay focused when you have the out and have to come back and try to do it again?
Matt Capps: "I think the toughest part is that these guys are good hitters, and it's almost a momentum swing, or momentum change, when they get a break or we get a break, it usually goes for the team that gets the break or the call...but nonetheless, it's still my job to take umpires or any other element out of the equation, and get three outs before they score a run, and in those situations I didn't do that, so it's frustrating but you put it behind you and move forward."
FB: For a team and city that was desperate for a closer last season, what's it been like to have you and Tyler Clippard be embraced and have that support from the fanbase?
Matt Capps: "It's been good, I mean you can tell when [Tyler] Clippard or I, either one, come into a game there's some excitement and the fans noticeably make some noise and seem excited for us to be in there, so it's always good to feel wanted and always good to feel like you're a part of a good thing moving forward, what this organization is trying to do, and I still don't feel like we've played our best baseball yet, but we're still holding our own and it's excited to think about what could happen here..."
Thanks, Mr. Capps.