Spring training: Capps brings fresh heat

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Matt Capps shed 15 pounds this offseason and, to hear him tell it, added a few notches to the velocity.

"There are no radar guns here or anything because it's just spring training, but I'm telling you: I'm throwing harder," the Pirates' closer said after a no-sweat inning in the 11-4 rout of the Houston Astros yesterday at McKechnie Field. "I can just feel it, the way it's coming out of my hand. It's just exploding. Nothing at all like last year."

Well, there actually are radar guns at spring training, but only those being held by the scouts seated behind home plate.


"No question, Matt's throwing harder," general manager Neal Huntington, a fixture in those seats, said. "The guns show him at about 90-93 miles an hour now, compared to 88-89 last spring. So, yeah, he's been a lot better. It's made his changeup and slider better, too."

Capps' velocity can reach 95-96 in the regular season, though it seldom did during his tumultuous 2008.

That started off by his reporting to last spring training out of shape, and it worsened with seven weeks lost to shoulder bursitis. His numbers were decent -- 3.02 ERA, 21 saves in 26 situations, 39 strikeouts, five walks -- but no one was satisfied, least of all Capps.

"I let myself down, and I let my teammates down," he said. "Until you've been there, you don't know what it's like sitting on the couch watching your team play."

It was while on the disabled list that he began to rededicate himself, and that was amplified this offseason. He now stands 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, still as thick as the football player he once was, but not nearly what he was last year.

"I feel strong, I feel fast, I feel healthy," he said. "Honestly, this is the best I can remember feeling physically, and I can't believe the difference it makes."

"Matt worked awfully hard this winter, and he's seeing the results," manager John Russell said after the game. "It's not just the weight. He's stronger. His velocity's back, and he's using it to just attack the hitter. And what I really like is the way he's using his other pitches."

It showed yesterday ...

First batter was Jason Smith: Strike one, bouncer to first off a changeup

Next was Mark Saccomanno: Two quick strikes, a purpose pitch inside, a slider that goes astray, and a grounder to short off a fastball

Finally, David Newhan: One pitch, popup off a changeup.

Eight pitches, thanks for coming.

For the spring, even with a three-walk opening outing last week, Capps' ERA remains pristine through four appearances, with four strikeouts.

"Actually, he's doing so well right now that I have to find extra work for him," pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said.

To achieve that, Kerrigan will begin sending Capps to Pirate City next week for 30-pitch sessions against minor leaguers.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog . First Published March 9, 2009 4:00 AM


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