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Matt Capps's struggles originate with his slider

Nationals closer Matt Capps believes that if a pitcher can locate his fastball, he can get away with throwing a slider that occasionally goes awry. The problem, then, for Capps on Sunday was that he possessed command of neither of his two pitches. When Capps took the mound with one out in the ninth inning, Washington was clinging to a one-run lead.

He threw a 94-mile per hour fastball that Cincinnati center fielder Drew Stubbs lofted toward the right field corner. Roger Bernadina misplayed the ball, and Stubbs ended up on second.

He threw an 86-mile per hour slider to pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes, who sent it down the third base line into the left field corner. Stubbs scored to tie the game on Gomes's double.

He threw five consecutive fastballs to pinch-hitter Scott Rolen, but all that did was knot the count at 1-2. On the next pitch - an 87-mile per hour slider - Rolen checked his swing. Capps thought Rolen had gone around. Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman thought Rolen had gone around. First base umpire Paul Schrieber, however, did not. Ball two.

Capps next offered an 86-mile per hour slider that Rolen sent over the left field fence. In the span of three batters, the Nationals went from owning a one-run lead to facing a two-run deficit.

"Matt's just struggling to get outs with his slider really," Riggleman said. "If it can go wrong for him right now, it's going wrong. We're not making plays when he's out there. I felt like we could have made a play on Stubbs's ball, and I thought we had Rolen struck out. That check-swing keeps coming back to haunt us. I know for a fact we had him struck out. It's called a ball, and then he throws a slider that hangs a little, and Rolen did what you're supposed to do with a hanging slider."

In seven outings since May 23 when he recorded his first blown save of the season, Capps has allowed 17 hits and recorded 15 outs. He has blown four of his last six save opportunities.

After Sunday's game, Capps publicly held himself accountable for his recent sub-par performances, casting aside the handful of defensive miscues made by his teammates while he's been on the mound, as well as the couple of questionable strike-ball calls that have gone against him.

"I've got to get on top of the baseball," Capps said. "I'm coming around the ball. I'm not getting anything down. I've had a hard time the last two weeks getting my slider down. My fastball's been down. Today when I missed, I missed up, and you can't be successful when you do that. I've got to make an adjustment, and I will."

By Steve Yanda  |  June 6, 2010; 7:56 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Capps  | Tags: Cincinnati Reds, Jim Riggleman, Matt Capps, Washington Nationals, blown save, check swing  
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Next: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper comparison easy, not apt


Well, you can't say the Nats didn't know what they were getting with Capps - it isn't going to work out. So add that to your lengthy list of needs along with RF, Catcher, CF, 1B, and 2B. Oh and and a couple of starters who can work past the sixth inning. I'm telling you folks it's going to be a long hard slog to become a competitive team - the first 2 months were only an illusion.

Posted by: bendersx6 | June 6, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

What's the definition of "lofted"? I've read it was more like launched, lined or lazered than "lofted" and blame goes to Capps for letting them L-word it at all.

Can we all ease keep pointing out how much worse our pitchers are without Pudge behind the plate? Guys are throwing a lot more of their secondary stuff in bad situations with "Who" out there.

Posted by: ckstevenson | June 6, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

I just hope we never get Umpire Crew N again. Those guys are awful...

Posted by: thepostischeap | June 6, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm telling you folks it's going to be a long hard slog to become a competitive team - the first 2 months were only an illusion.

Posted by: bendersx6

Close games, win or loss, are competitive, and this squad is giving us competitive games. Jeez, how many times have they been on the opposite end of a blow-out (>4 runs) this year? Infinitely better than last year's performance.

Posted by: joemktg1 | June 6, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Pretty pathetic reaction by Mssr Capps!

If Dibble can see it and say it a million times in the booth then what the hell is McCatty and Gentlemen Jim doing in the dugout?

In the past two weeks this team has basically drifted from one inning to another. Leaving men on base, making a ton of errors (physical and mental), striking out at an alarming rate, pitchers nibbling around the plate and giving the other team 29 or 30 outs.

In any baseball city (ie NY, Boston, Philly, Chicago, heck even LA) a display of bad baseball including the Cappers inability to shut the door would be hashed, bashed and disected until the guy was smashed into a million pieces. Because we have zero locally when it comes to baseball intelligence on the radio and even in print all we get is the company line of what was supposed to happen. Sounds alot like 2008 and 2009 to me.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | June 6, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

If Adam Dunn could get just one freakin base hit with runners in scoring position, none of those 9th inning runs would matter.
When is some1 going to hold Dunn accountable. He batting in the cleanup spot and batting .100 with RISP and less than that with RISP and 2 outs. He's killing every rally.

Posted by: dovelevine | June 6, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I am going to say this again and believe me when i tell you that Jim Riggleman is over managing himself right out of a job,look i don't blame Capps he's not going to refuse the ball when asked to close but it's up to Riggleman to recognize the flow of the game.I posted on the earlier thread(58)that Clippard was sailing along(lights out!)against the Reds lineup but Riggleman again! had to go get Capps for the final two outs WHY? and what is McCatty doing he should have said something to Riggleman. Matt Capps barely escaped friday night, the Reds were hitting shots off him that game and they have an unbelievably high batting average against Capps, did Riggleman even know or consider that statistic? Jim Riggleman lost the Houston game by playing Guzman in RF in the bottom of the ninth of a close game,he continues to bat Dunn cleanup even though Dunn has been horrible with men in scoring position all year and is killing this team with his inability to drive in runs in crucial situations. There are several instances that Riggleman has over managed instead getting a "feel" for the game,and one last thing who's call was it to let Marquis Grissom go, he was the reason Nyjer Morgan was so effective at the plate and in the field Grissom was very good at working with Morgan,Dukes, and Bernadina(before he got hurt) Grissom was an excellent player and could draw on the experience of many years in the major's that's key when you're trying to mold a winner, this has been a tough two weeks for this team and a lot of these loses lay right at the feet of Jim Riggleman.

Posted by: dargregmag | June 6, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Boy ... and they call me negative ... WTF. I say again WTF.

Yeah Capps screwed up royally ... but Morse saved his ass big time. How did Riggleman reward that? Did he put him at first or in right field the way he did Guzman and Kennedy? No.

Here's what I think. Riggleman is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay toooo ( did that go long enough?) in love with his veterans? He has flashbacks to his Chicago days which is why Batista is on this roster instead of Stammen. That totally sucks.

Riggleman is not doing the job. This loss is on him. And okay yeah he is better than Manny Acta ... but he appears to be not even be in the same league as Frank Robinson. Its like comparing Nieves with Pudge. He sucks and I hate saying that as he is supposedly a DC fan from the way back. But a lot of his moves smack of favoritism over common sense. I think the guy is gone after this season.

Posted by: periculum | June 7, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

I trust that after the Nats draft young Mr. Harper that the capacity crowd that warmly greets Strasburg will make a strong impression on this next phenom. Don't want to go through one of these drawn out "maybe he won't sign'' situations.

Posted by: nats24 | June 7, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

Morse in RF for Bernadina? Don't think so. Morse at 1B for Kennedy? That makes sense. Given Morse's clutch hits in the last few games, he would be an offensive upgrade over Kennedy with little (if any) defensive downgrade at 1B.
The key pitching maneuver, IMO, was lifting Stammen in the 7th after Cincy's successful sac bunt and 2 out. With the pitcher due to bat next inning, this was poor judgment by Riggleman. Unless Stammen was truly out of gas at that point, using Storen to get just one batter was a waste. If Stammen can finish the 7th, then Clippard in the 8th and Capps in the 9th would have left us another bullpen option in the 10th aside from Slaten and Batista. Storen trying to get that last out in the 10th would have been a better choice than Batista, who is more used to coming in in mop-up situations.

Posted by: bertbkatz | June 7, 2010 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Using Storen in the 7th was Riggs' attempt to work him into more pressure situations, which I like. By the same token. maybe he could have done the same with Clipp in the 9th, using Capps' "heavy workload'' as a plausible excuse. (Not that I'm down on Capps -- those blown saves in Houston weren't so much on him.)

Posted by: nats24 | June 7, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

I realize Capps had an amazing start to the season, but he's really killing the Nationals lately. The cause of his problems is secondary to the fact of his problems. I think it's time the Nats gave the ball to the closer of the see if the future is now.

Posted by: fischy | June 7, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

I agree entirely with dargregmag. I have been appalled with Riggleman's managing over the last several games. He does not seem to be able to judge situations on a moment to moment basis, only using stock responses to every situation. And he clearly does not learn from his mistakes. I was really happy after he left Clippard in to pitch in the ninth. I thought he had finally realized something. In Clippard he has a solid performer with a HIGH strike-out percentage, especially important late in the game with this error-prone team. It's a no-brainer to leave the hot pitcher in. Capps E.R.A over the last several games must be close to 9 or higher. What good is that in a closer?

I also agree that Dunn should be moved down in the batting order - to the 5th position.

I do think this team has a lot of potential. They have showed time and again they can hang in there with the best teams, and score off the best pitching opponents they have faced. With a few breaks and BETTER managing they could be 4-5 games above .500, though their error rate has got to improve as well if they hope to be competitive.

If I were the general manager/owner I would really start thinking about a manager change if the present trend continues.

Posted by: gnatman | June 7, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

The Bruney and Capps signings aren't looking too good. So much for having fixed the bullpen.

Posted by: upperdeck4 | June 7, 2010 8:24 AM | Report abuse

I have rarely left Nats Park as disgusted as I was after yesterday’s loss. Yeah, they all sting a bit but I was just so freakin’ pissed about Capps. I know I must have looked like a kid who was sucking on a lemon. That 9th inning raises so many questions – including #1 which is …Clippard was removed after getting the first out because ……..? C’mon Riggs, fill in the blank. I hear all this stuff about Capps not getting support from his fielders and yes, there have been some bonehead plays in the OF in the last week. But this guy just isn’t getting I done. How about some ground balls fer Christ sake?

Posted by: gonatsgo1 | June 7, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

"I [stunk] today," Capps said. "There's no if, ands or buts about it. I missed on a lot of pitches. That one's on me."

OK. Then all is forgiven. On this team, just say you're sorry and all is forgotten.
Capps again tonight in the 9th with Bernadina in right. What could go wrong? They said they were sorry!

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | June 7, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

bertbkatz: I would not have even consider using Capps yesterday after fridays tightrope walk by Capps where Rolen basically got himself out(foul pop),when Riggleman went out to replace Clippard sunday he played right into Dusty Baker's hand with Rolen and Gomes on the bench this time Rolen didn't miss(2rhr) only Morse clutch double in the bottom of the ninth saved Riggleman from looking like a complete idiot, i don't blame Capps for this loss he should have never been in the game, again Riggleman over managed the situation.

Posted by: dargregmag | June 7, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, that’s a good point about Friday’s game -- which I had forgotten (and I was there!). Capps put 2 runners on before he wiggled out of that one. During his run of consecutive saves when he looked like a world beater, trying to remember how many of those were 1-2-3 shutdown saves? I’d like to see those numbers. This guy just doesn’t inspire confidence and as we all know the closer position is as much about the mental aspects as physical. I’m just wondering where his head is?

And the galling thing is that if ever there was a chance for Riggs to go in another direction, the 9th yesterday was tailor-made. A relatively easy 8th for Clipp and he gets the first out in the 9th. Just leave it alone. You’re thinking too much Riggs!

Posted by: gonatsgo1 | June 7, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

My point was not about whether to use Capps in the 9th. It was about bringing in Storen to get one batter out when the pitcher's spot was due up next inning. Also, Stammen had only thrown 66 pitches at that point. He was not out of gas and should have been allowed to finish the 7th inning. Assuming that the rest of the game played out the same, having Storen available in the 10th inning would have improved our chances of keeping the game tied.
And, yes, I would have left Clippard to pitch the 9th until he allowed a runner or two.

Posted by: bertbkatz | June 7, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

On the bright side, I doubt any balls would be leaving the yard tonight seeing as how it's an off day and all. :-)


Capps again tonight in the 9th with Bernadina in right. What could go wrong? They said they were sorry!

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | June 7, 2010 9:27 AM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 7, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

bertbkatz: I got your point on your post about Storen and that situation, just still fuming about Riggleman putting Capps in the game.

Posted by: dargregmag | June 7, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I think its natural to blame Capps and Riggleman for some of these losses. I also think Riggleman blew the last game in Houston. BUT at some point the offense has to give the pitching staff a better chance to win.

Lots of ifs in this next sentence, but hear me out: IF the ump gets the call right on Berkman, and IF Guzzie catches that ball in right, and IF Bernadina catches the other ball in right, Capps gets three saves and would've now saved four straight. But he didn't, so here's what I think is going on.

Every closer is going to blow some games. That happens, its baseball. But I'm not aware of another closer who's faced so many one-run leads. This means Capps would need to have an ERA of about 0.00 to convert these games. No one is going to do that.

This offense has to pick it up. They could easily be a game or two under .500, but they could just as easily be 10 games under. Things will even out and this is probably a slightly above or below .500 ballclub. Not bad, but clearly not ready to compete yet. The bullpen can only do so much.

Posted by: rodeorob | June 7, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

If the Nats or anyone else thought that Capps was our answer at closer, they were kidding themselves

He is an average closer....period.

If we can find someone else, we should....b/c these blown saves will not change

Posted by: Bious | June 7, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

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