'Cappy' deserves credit for Dodgers' success
ANAHEIM -- There wasn't a great deal of newsprint or cyberspace devoted this winter to the Dodgers' signing of Chris Capuano. But if you're looking for reasons why this team has been living atop the National League West amid a string of injuries to important personnel, notably Matt Kemp, the man known as Cappy certainly warrants a tip of the cap.
The big lefty with the Duke education is putting together an All-Star season, assuming you consider wins, earned run average and opponents' batting average significant numbers.
Capuano delivered a typically clean, effective effort on Saturday night in a 3-1 victory over the Angels in front of a lively full house numbering 44,512. The win gives the Dodgers a shot on Sunday at splitting the six-game Interleague season series with their geographical rivals to the south.
Moving to 9-2 and shaving his ERA to 2.60, Capuano frustrated the Angels for seven innings with timely help from his friends before shutdown relief was supplied by Ronald Belasario and closer Kenley Jansen (save No. 12).
"There's no quit in us," Capuano said, referring to manager Don Mattingly's role in shaping the team's personality. "It's a reflection of the character of Don, the way he played, the way he is. We kind of take that on. We've got to execute, not give up at-bats."
And make plays, including the remarkable ones.
Brilliant stabs by shortstop Dee Gordon and center fielder Elian Herrera deprived the Angels of what could have been a game-breaking fifth inning.
Having scored on Howard Kendrick's leadoff double and an RBI single by Erick Aybar, the Angels had two runners on base when Mike Trout grounded sharply to the left of Gordon. One great athlete robbing another, Gordon sprawled to intercept the ball and reach second ahead of John Hester, but he missed doubling up the flying Trout by an eyelash.
When Torii Hunter crushed a ball to center, the Angels were poised to celebrate a lead. But Herrera banged against the wall to take extra bases and a pair of RBIs from Hunter, who has spent his adult life making plays just like it.
"Dee Gordon made a great play," Capuano said, "and Elian Herrera obviously made the play of the game that turned it for us."
Albert Pujols, a .552 career hitter against Capuano with five homers in 38 at-bats, had a pair of singles and was hit by a pitch in the late afternoon twilight against the lefty.
"He was mixing his pitches in and out, keeping us off balance," Pujols said. "But it was pretty tough to see the ball after the second inning with those shadows. I'm not putting any excuses, but you should've seen how both sides [were] taking swings. It was pretty ridiculous.
"But you can't take anything away from Capuano. He threw a good game, kept the ball down, made his pitches when he needed to, got a couple of groundball double plays."
Capuano has had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery twice and was out of the game in 2008 and 2009. Having made his reputation in Milwaukee, he spent last season with the Mets and is thriving on the opposite coast, lifting his career record to 66-66 with this latest effort.
The surgeries and time away from the game have given him a deeper appreciation, he said, of the pure act of executing pitches and the camaraderie of a team of driven individuals.
"We all evolve as we go," he said. "It's a natural part of it. I was fastball, slider and changeup [for his first five Major League seasons], and I've experimented with grips -- two-seam fastball, breaking ball, cutter."
Pumping gas, he struck out 350 hitters combined in the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Brewers.
"Cappy's been awesome," said A.J. Ellis, who shares the catching responsibilities with veteran Matt Treanor. "From the start of Spring Training, he had more velocity on his fastball. Everybody knows Cappy has an amazing changeup to righties and lefties. He added a curveball that gave him another dimension."
Capuano feels he's better off letting his catchers do some of the deep thinking after the standard pregame meeting in which they review hitters and how to attack them.
"My goal is to minimize shake-offs and thinking," he said. "Sometimes you over-think and you can get defensive as a pitcher, pitch away from contact." The idea, he added, is to "turn off the brain and focus on attacking the glove -- trying to relax and execute pitches."
Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw draws most of the attention, but there's always room in a rotation for a guy who pounds the strike zone with premium stuff and get outs with regularity.
"Numbers don't lie," Mattingly asked when someone wondered about Capuano's All-Star possibilities. "It's not like this has been a mirage, [and he's] getting all kinds of runs.
"He's been very consistent, very good. He should be considered. I'd be really happy for him. We want to see our guys represent us, and I'd be really happy if he does."
The leader of the operation grinned.
"There's also the rest of the year," Mattingly said. "I'd like him to make the All-Star team, but [I want him] at the end of the year, too."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.