Capps could see first post­sea­son chase with Twins

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

MINNEAPOLIS — Five years into his ma­jor league ca­reer, Matt Capps has his first chance to ex­pe­ri­ence a pen­nant chase.

This is a real hands-on op­por­tu­nity, too. His abil­ity to seal the ninth in­ning will have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on Min­nesota’s de­fense of the AL Cen­tral ti­tle.

“I played in the play­offs in the mi­nors a cou­ple of years. Ob­vi­ously that’s quite a bit dif­fer­ent, but with what we do we’re all com­pet­i­tive,” said Capps, who earned his first save with the Twins on Fri­day night. “It doesn’t mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion is. Ev­ery time I go on the mound, no­body’s go­ing to put more pres­sure on me than my­self. As far as mean­ing­ful team­wise, it’s been a long time. But ev­ery time I took the mound, no mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion was it meant some­thing to me. I al­ways did my best, and it’s not go­ing to change now.”

Capps wasn’t a part of late­sea­son ex­cite­ment while pitch­ing for Pitts­burgh and Washington. His trade to the Twins on Thurs­day thrust him into a new league and a new sit­u­a­tion, but the All-Star closer sounded com­fort­able be­fore Fri­day’s game af­ter meet­ing his Twins team­mates for the first time.

“Ev­ery­body was very en­gag­ing and made me feel at home right away, so I think it’s go­ing to be a good, fun sec­ond half,” Capps said.

Af­ter Capps was acquired from the Na­tion­als for prized catch­ing prospect Wil­son Ramos and mi­nor league pitcher Joe Testa, Twins man­ager Ron Gar­den­hire called Jon Rauch and told him he would move back to the setup role he was in un­til Joe Nathan hurt his el­bow and needed sea­son-end­ing surgery.

Capps down­played any po­ten­tial awk­ward­ness.

“Bot­tom line: If we go out and put a ring on our fin­gers, no­body’s go­ing to care who does what,” he said.

Capps was 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA and 26 saves in 30 chances for Washington, mak­ing his 5.80 ERA for Pitts­burgh in 2009 look more like an aber­ra­tion. The 26-year-old, who won’t be a free agent un­til af­ter next sea­son, has nine walks and 38 strike­outs in 46 in­nings. Bet­ter lo­ca­tion has been a big help.

“He’s a bull­dog, a great guy, a great team­mate, got a great arm,” Gar­den­hire said.

Rauch will share the eighthin­ning as­sign­ments, depend­ing on bat­ter matchups, with right-han­ders Matt Guer­rier and Jesse Crain and left-han­der Jose Mi­jares. The trade also a mea­sure of sta­bil­ity for 2011, when Nathan is ex­pected back but with­out guar­an­tee he’ll be ready right away af­ter com­ing back from lig­a­ment re­place­ment surgery.

“That’s just go­ing to make this ball­club bet­ter,” Capps said, adding: “If I’m the eighthin­ning guy or the ninth-in­ning guy or the 10th-in­ning guy, that’s all that mat­ters.”

To make room for Capps, the Twins op­tioned strug­gling pitcher Nick Black­burn to Triple-A Rochester. Black­burn made 18 starts and was moved to the bullpen last week. He has a 6.66 ERA in 104 in­nings.

“It’s about get­ting on the mound and pitch­ing,” Gar­den­hire said. “That’s why we sent him down, and he agreed with it 100 per­cent.”

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