Pirates Notebook: Russell backs Capps '100 percent'

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John Russell, the Pirates' manager, seemed taken aback by the question: Does he stand behind closer Matt Capps?

"Oh, 100 percent," Russell replied without hesitation. "One of the things I think has hurt Matt is the consistency of his save opportunities. You go three, five, eight days between saves, and that adrenaline rush changes. You look back, and I think you'll see he's done well when he's had consistent opportunities. A closer needs consistent work."

And if he does not get it?

"Then, he tries to do too much, and I think that's what you see with Matt."

The Pirates have no issues with Capps' velocity, stuff or conditioning, issues often raised by the fan base after a blown save, such as the one he had Tuesday in the 6-4 victory against Philadelphia.

Capps has blown four of 27 save opportunities, about the usual for a closer, but other numbers are of greater concern: He has a 6.38 ERA, opponents are batting a robust .335, and he has allowed his first batter to reach 20 of 46 times.

But, as Russell stressed, the work has been sporadic: Capps has had just seven opportunities the past two months. When he had eight opportunities in June, he had a save each time, as well as a 2.45 ERA.

Karstens to disabled list

Reliever Jeff Karstens was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Tuesday, because of a strained lower back. No corresponding move is needed, as Karstens previously was on the bereavement list.

The back flared up during the Aug. 11-13 series in Denver earlier this month.

First pitch/last pitch

No records are kept to determine if the Pirates ever had played in a game in which the first and last pitch each resulted in a home run before Tuesday, when Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins led off with a home run and Andrew McCutchen ended it with a two-run walkoff.

Research by the Elias Sports Bureau yesterday did confirm that it had been 14 years since the previous time a Pirates game began and ended with plate appearances that resulted in home runs: That came May 20, 1995, in a 9-6 loss at San Diego. Al Martin led off with a home run, and the Padres' Bip Roberts ended it with a ninth-inning grand slam.

Buried treasure

• Shortstop Ronny Cedeno again was a late scratch because of his sore right pinky. He was replaced by Luis Cruz.

Dustin Molleken, a reliever with Class AA Altoona, has been invited to play for the United States in the World Cup next month in Europe, as teammate Pedro Alvarez and Class AAA starter Daniel McCutchen had been earlier. The U.S. roster is not final.

• Russell, on that win Tuesday: "It's a little bit of a defining moment not just for Andrew but for the whole ball club. Beating a good team like that, feeling good ... we've been working hard to make this happen."

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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