Results tagged ‘ Matt Capps ’

Washington Pitchers & All-Star Game Wins

You could probably describe Tyler Clippard’s All-Star Game experience as a little out of the ordinary.

With the American League leading 1-0 in the top of the fourth inning, Clippard was brought into a jam to get the final out and prevent any more damage from being done. With runners on first and second, National League Skipper Bruce Bochy called to the bullpen for Clippard to face Adrian Beltre. Clippard quickly worked the count to 0-2, and then tried to throw an up-and-in fastball that didn’t quite get up-and-in enough. Beltre smoked it to left field for a single.

The Astros’ Hunter Pence got the ball on the hop and made the decision to throw it to home to catch a charging Jose Bautista, who was attempting to tack on an extra run. Bautista was out by about five feet at home plate. Inning over.

Fast forward to the bottom of the fourth. Two runners are on, and the Brewers’ slugging first baseman Prince Fielder is in the box for the NL. He tears the leather off the ball on a home run to center field, giving the National League a 3-1 lead. The NL would go on to win 5-1, and since Clippard was the pitcher of record when his team got the winning run, he got the win.

Clippard’s pitching line for that game would be: 0.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 H, 3.00 WHIP. He got the win despite not even retiring a batter.

This is, oddly enough, the second year in a row that a Nationals pitcher pitched just a third of an inning and ended up with the win. Matt Capps, then the Nats’ closer, struck out the one batter he faced to end an inning in the 2010 All-Star Game. He was the pitcher of record when the NL took the lead, so he was credited with the win.

Even stranger is the fact that both Clippard and Capps were brought in to relieve a Phillies’ pitcher—Clippard came in for Cliff Lee, and Capps came in for Roy Halladay.

On a historic level of coincidence, Clippard is now the second Washington pitcher to get the All-Star Game win without having retired a batter. In 1954, Dean Stone was a representative for the Senators. He, like Clippard, was brought in to get out of a jam. But when Red Schoendienst was caught stealing home, the inning ended. Stone was the pitcher of record when the American League took the lead, so he got the win—but unlike Clippard, since the out was recorded on a caught stealing, he never actually faced a batter.

On the all-time list of winning pitchers in the All-Star Game, only four of them pitched a third of an inning. Three of them played for Washington—Stone, Capps and now Clippard. It’s an odd little tradition that’s happened for DC pitchers, but that’s one of the things that makes this game worth following, isn’t it?

Nats land prized prospect Wilson Ramos


Wilson Ramos is  Nat.jpgBuy low, sell high. That’s exactly what the Nationals did Thursday night when they traded closer Matt Capps and cash considerations to the Minnesota Twins for catcher Wilson Ramos and left-handed pitcher Joe Testa. The Twins struck out in their pursuit for a starter like Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt so they turned their attention to the back end of the bullpen. Capps will be the Twins closer. The Twins solved a short term problem while the Nats could have a catcher for the future.

 

The void left by Capps will likely be filled by a closer by committee with Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen who collectively have two careers saves. They say if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one. The same could be said for closers but it might not be long before the Nats settle in on a specific closer.

 

Ramos is a defensively sound, power-bat backstop and was the Twins best trade chip due to some guy named Joe Mauer. Ramos is regarded as one of baseball’s top prospects and entered 2010 rated as the Twins’ best power hitter, best defensive catcher and No. 2 prospect according to industry-insider Baseball America.

 

The soon-to-be 23-year-old (Aug. 10) Ramos has struggled this season batting .241 with 14 doubles, five home runs and 30 RBI in 71 games with Triple-A Rochester. Last season, Ramos’ first at the Double-A level, he paced all Twins full-season farmhands in batting average (.317), threw out 42 percent of would-be basestealers and was subsequently named the Eastern League’s No. 8 prospect.

 

Ramos–who stands 6-foot-0, 220 lbs.–made his Big League debut with Minnesota in May and batted .296 (8-for-26) with three doubles and one RBI in seven games. He went 4-for-5 in his Major League debut and followed it up going 3-for-4 the next night.

 

The Nationals optioned Ramos to Triple-A Syracuse and assigned Testa to Single-A Potomac.

 

Capps joins a Twins team in the midst of a playoff race–1.5 games behind the White Sox–and enters a division that has required a one game playoff to determine the division champion the past two seasons. He has been lights-out since Strasburg made his debut–probably coincidence more than anything else. Since June 8, Capps is 3-0 and is 8-for-8 in save opportunities with a 1.45 ERA (3 ER/18.2 IP), 13 punch outs and only two walks in 19 games.

 

In his 10 outings before Strasburg’s debut, Capps blew four saves and went 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA (9 ER/ 8.0 IP) and a .467 BAA.

Nats look for two game sweep

It is a beautiful day at the ballpark–the temperature is in the low 80’s and the sun is shining brightly. With a win tonight, the Nationals would secure their fourth straight series win at home. A win would also give the Nationals their third series win over the Mets this season alone. The Nationals have never claimed three series from the Mets in a single season before.

 

Here are a few more things to keep in perspective:

If you were at last night’s game, it could be the only game you ever attend where three semi-unique events all occur in one game: a pitcher recording his first Major League victory, an inside-the-park home run and a triple play. Each one by itself is semi-memorable but all three of them in the same game is magical.

Drew Storen picked up his first Major League victory and Stephen Strasburg earned the victory in his third Triple-A start. It may be a while before both pitchers earn a victory on the same night again in their careers.

Matt Capps converted his Major League leading 15th save last night, improving to 15-for-15 in save opportunities. The Nationals now have 16 saves on the season. The Nats didn’t record their 16th save last season until August 2.

Mets (19-22):

1.    Jose Reyes – SS

2.    Alex Cora – 2B

3.    Jason Bay – LF

4.    Ike Davis – 1B

5.    David Wright – 3B

6.    Angel Pagan – CF

7.    Rod Barajas – C

8.    Jeff Francoeur – RF

9.    John Maine – SP (1-3, 6.13 ERA)

* Angel Pagan’s inside-the-park homer in the fourth inning last night marked the first ever at Nationals Park. One inning later on defense, Pagan started an 8-2-6-3 triple play–the first triple play turned at Nationals Park.

* According to the Elias Sports Bureau, a team has not posted an inside-the-park homer and a triple play in the same game since September 25, 1955. Philadelphia’s Ted Kazanski hit the homer and started the triple play against the New York Giants.

 Nationals (21-20):

1.      Nyjer Morgan – CF

2.      Adam Kennedy – 2B

3.      Ryan Zimmerman – 3B

4.      Adam Dunn – 1B

5.      Josh Willingham – LF

6.      Ivan Rodriguez – C

7.      Roger Bernadina – RF

8.      Ian Desmond – SS

9.      Luis Atilano – SP (3-0, 3.90 ERA)

* Drew Storen earned his first Major League win last night, tossing 0.2 scoreless innings and stranding his lone inherited runner. It was his second Big League contest. He did not earn a decision in his debut.

* In 12 of the Nationals’ last 15 games, including last night’s win, Washington’s bullpen has received the decision.

Nats off to best start since moving to DC

With the 6-4 win against the Mets today, the Nationals are 19-15 and 7-3-1 in series play. The Nationals are off to their best start since moving to the District in 2005. Not to mention, Livan Hernandez has a 1.04 ERA and Tyler Clippard has seven victories.

 

In 2009, the Nationals didn’t win their 19th game until June 18 and seventh series until July 22.

 

The Nats are a new team. There is a new attitude and it appears to be the beginning of a new era in Nationals baseball. No matter how you choose to say it, the Nationals are winning games and turning heads everywhere they go now. I pulled some quotes from a variety of clips just to prove it.

 

Manager Jim Riggleman: “It’s going to be a challenge. But we feel like more and more, other clubs are going to be looking at us like, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a challenge to play those guys.'”

 

Josh Willingham: “When you win a few games like that, you’re able to believe you can win. That’s what we’re doing. We believe in our pitchers. We believe in our hitters. When we’re in games late, we have confidence we’re going to win them this year.”

 

“Last year, teams just came in and thought it would be an easy series win. That’s not the case this year. You play better baseball, you get respect from people.”

 

Livan Hernandez: “We play hard. We’re a team. We play the right way, [and] we’re going to win some games.”

 

Adam Dunn: “We would have lost this game last year. It seems like we’re finding ways to win close games that in the past we would have lost.”

“You’re not waiting for something bad to happen. It seemed like last year, in a lot of situations, the feeling [was], ‘What’s going to happen now? Something bad’s going to happen.’ This year, it’s … the opposite. Something good’s going to happen. We just don’t know when or how.”

Matt Capps: “We’re resilient out there…We’re fighting all the way to the end. Even the games we haven’t come out on top of, we’ve been in situations in the seventh, eighth, ninth innings to win those ballgames… It’s just a matter of putting it together and maybe a thing or two will go our way.”

Nyjer Morgan: “There is no pressure or buildup on what it takes to play the game. We are professionals. Even the young Ian Desmond, he is a professional. Everybody has each other’s back. We are one cohesive unit, man. It basically started as a problem, but Rizzo is getting the right people in here.”

 

General Mike Rizzo: “In the past, it would have put us in a funk for days. It would have been, ‘We played well, but we lost. Let’s try again tomorrow.’ These guys work harder than I’ve seen during the four-plus years I’ve been here. They were visibly upset that they didn’t win that game. They probably should have won it. They blew the game, but they were going to do something about it. To me that was the most tell-tale sign that we had a different ballclub than we had in the past.”

 

Inside Pitch Live with closer Matt Capps


Capps and Dibble 1.jpgMatt Capps has been everything and more for the Nationals this season. He has provided stability at the back end of the bullpen and when he enters the game, you can put a Curly “W” in the books. He is 13-for-13 in save opportunities and sports a 0.98 ERA with 17 strikeouts. He was named the Delivery Man of the Month for April. He spent 20 minutes on Saturday in the PNC Diamond Club fielding questions from MASN Commentator Rob Dibble as well as fans for the second installment of Inside Pitch Live.

How are you enjoying your stay in Washington?

“I’m enjoying it. We’re still trying to get used to the city. It’s a little bigger city than what I’m used to, coming over from Pittsburgh and then I grew up in a small town. It’s a big city but I’m enjoying it.”

It’s Pups in the Park today and you have a few dogs right?

“I have three golden retrievers. Two of ours are English Cream so they’re as white as my pants. But they’re awesome dogs. I love them.”


Capps and Dibble 2.jpgHow much fun is it to be on a team that is winning?

“It’s been a lot of fun. And the most exciting part about it is I don’t feel like we’re playing good baseball yet. We were a couple of games over .500 a couple of days ago. And the exciting part about that is we’ve played how many games without Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup? And Adam Dunn is not hitting like we know Adam Dunn can hit. And our starting pitching hasn’t really stabilized itself yet. We’ve had some good performances, but as far as consistency with the guys we have and what they’re capable of, I don’t feel like we’ve hit our stride yet.”

Have you had the chance to see fans outside of the ballpark?

“My wife’s family was in town last homestand. We went out to dinner. Don’t tell the guys downstairs but we walked into an ice cream shop. Got some ice cream and I had some people recognize me… a lady recognized me, and I ended up talking to her and her family, what have you and just had a good conversation. They’re excited to have the team back in Washington. They’ve been following the team. From what everybody seems to be saying, everybody’s excited. You can kind of see the writing on the wall of what the Washington Nationals can do, with the guys who are coming and the guys who are here. Like I said, we hit our stride and start playing the way I think everybody here’s capable of playing and this could be a fun place to be.”

What’s it like throwing to Pudge?

“It’s pretty cool. I called my high school coach after the first bullpen [session] I threw in Spring Training just to tell him. This was my fifth Spring Training and I think that was the most nervous I’ve been all year was that first day when I got up on the mound… I look up and there’s Pudge Rodriguez standing there with a mitt. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was like, ‘Oh, man…'”


Capps and Kid.jpgHow nice is he as a teammate?

“He has confidence in you. When he comes out to the mound, I can tell by the way he talks to me, he knows we’re going to get the job done. But the most impressive part about him, there’s a reason why he’s played so long. The guy’s in phenomenal shape and the work ethic that he has, you kind of look at him when you walk into the clubhouse or the weight room, and you see a guy working like that, you think, ‘this guy’s been catching for 20 years in the Big Leagues and he’s working like that?’ He’s, what, 38 years old? I’m 26 years old. There’s no reason for me not to work harder than this guy. So he kind of pushes you in what he does away from the field, and the confidence he has in himself, and the confidence that he shows us, as pitchers–it’s a lot of fun to work with.”

You are the papa bear in the bullpen, how did that start?

“It actually started in Pittsburgh my rookie year. I got called up in 2005. ’05 was a fun year for me. I went to low Single-A ball to the Big Leagues in one year. So when I got to the Big Leagues, I was kind of overwhelmed. I’d never been to a Spring Training. I didn’t know many people on the team. One of the few guys I did know was Sean Burnett. He was on the DL at that point in time, in September of ’05. Part of his duties being on the DL, he wanted to come sit in the bullpen, well anytime somebody warmed up he had to bring them two cups of water. That just kind of carried over. My next year, Burnett wasn’t on the DL. He was done rehabbing. Me being the rookie, that was my job and it’s just something that’s kind of carried over. I know when I’m warming up, a lot of times I don’t want to leave the mound and go to the water cooler, so I kind of felt like if I did it for them, maybe they’d do it for me. So a little bit of selfishness in there. I’m not that nice of a guy (laughing).”

How are guys in the bullpen getting ready for Stephen Strasburg?

“We got a chance to see the guy in Spring Training. He is a phenomenal talent. Anytime somebody can throw 98, 99 miles an hour with a hammer of a curveball and a great changeup and a good feel for everything, you’re a little bit jealous .But we’re excited for him to get up here. I think he’s going to be an impact player from day one. There are a couple of other guys that get overlooked because of all the attention on Strasburg. But the most impressive part about him is the person he is. He’s in the weight room, he’s out running, he’s doing things in between starts. It’s not something you see every day. It’s kind of refreshing. Like I was talking about with Pudge, there’s a reason why he’s so successful. There’s a reason Stephen Strasburg is Stephen Strasburg. He works hard day-in, day-out. And he’s got the physical tools to go along with it. We’re very excited about him getting up here and kind of hoping that when he does get up here we can go to a more traditional seven-man bullpen.”


Capps and Inside pitch.jpgHow do you turn it on when you enter the game? Do you have a trick?

“No, I don’t. If anyone has any advice, please let me know. I try to be the same guy every day, no matter what happened the night before. If you walked into the clubhouse this morning, I don’t want you to see any difference in me whether I had a six out save and struck out six guys or if I blew a three run save the night before. I want to be the same guy every day. I try to do that with my routine.”

Seven things I think I know

Seven things I think I know:


Matt Capps first save.jpg1.     
I think Matt Capps is the Nats’ MVP the first month of the season. He has successfully converted all 10 saves opportunities, something the Nats couldn’t do last year. Just for a comparison, the 2009 Nats didn’t pick up their tenth save until June 17. It took five different pitchers too: Joel Hanrahan, Julian Tavarez, Kip Wells, Joe Beimel and Mike MacDougal. There is nothing more demoralizing than losing the game after leading in the ninth. The Nats are winning close games and that has been the difference in their solid start. They are 4-2 in one run games and 4-1 in two run games.

1. A. I think Matt Capps will be the DHL Delivery Man of the Month for April.

2.      I think Tyler Clippard looks really intimidating with his glasses. “I don’t feel like the glasses are too intimidating,” Clippard said. “I feel like they are kind of dorky. But if they’re intimidating, that’s fine too.” I still don’t know if that has any impact on his pitching but his change-up has been nasty. He is 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 14 appearances.

3.      At 12-10 the Nationals are off to their best start since they moved to the District.

4.      Drew Storen is one step closer to making it to the Majors. He was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse today. Storen converted all four save opportunities and posted a 0.96 ERA in seven appearances with Harrisburg of the Double-A Eastern League. The 22-year-old fanned 11 and walked just one batter in 9.1 innings pitched. Storen posted a .161 (5-for-31) batting average against, including a stingy .059 (1-for-17) against right-handed batters. Storen is 2-1 with 15 saves and a 1.75 ERA in 35 appearances during his two seasons as a professional. He has tallied 60 strikeouts against just nine walks in 46.1 innings, good enough for a 6.7/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 11.7 strikeouts per 9.0 innings.

 


Ryan Zimmerman 1.jpg5.     
I think Ryan Zimmerman is admiring how far he hit the wiffle ball.

6.      The Nats defense isn’t perfect but they seem to be making gravity defying catches each game. They are drastically improved from last season and are sixth in the NL with a .984 fielding percentage–a major improvement after finishing last in 2009.


Strasburg 12.jpg7.     
I think Stephen Strasburg will be joining Storen soon. Strasburg will probably make his final start with Harrisburg on Sunday. The phenom has been just that in his first four professional starts at Double-A Harrisburg and was literally unhittable in his last start.

Strasburg’s first four starts:

Date

OPP

W

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

4/11

@ALT

1

1.80

5.0

4

4

1

2

8

4/16

NBR

0

0.00

2.1

2

1

0

0

3

4/21

REA

1

0.00

5.0

1

0

0

1

6

4/27

@REA

1

0.00

5.0

0

0

0

0

6

Totals

 

3

0.52

17.1

7

5

1

3

23

 

Bullpen continues to come up big


Tyler Clippard standing.JPGThe Nats 2010 bullpen is becoming a well-oiled machine. It is pretty easy to see they are having fun too. Just watch them warm up once.

Here is a brief recap of the bullpen pitchers warming up on Tuesday. The bullpen pitchers are a team within a team and they are relegated to the right field corner when they warm up, right next to the spot they occupy during the game.

They say no man is an island, but the bullpen pitchers are basically on an island. They are isolated from the rest of the team during the game so it only makes sense to do it during practice too.

They don’t have to worry about BP or taking ground balls, aside from the occasional PFP (pitcher field position) drills. Left alone, they have created other clever ways to warm up. On Tuesday, they pretended they were star NFL receivers and ran deep post-corner and fly routes to the corner of the imaginary end zone, catching high fly balls and always making sure their toes were inbounds.

The next drill was a little more practical than running routes. They simulated hitters. In this one instance: Tyler Clippard pitched, Brian Bruney caught, Sean Burnett batted with his glove and Matt Capps provided commentary and called balls and strikes.

Bruney didn’t have to move his glove once and Capps did his best strike three punch out after each pitch. 

“We’re just having a good time,” Burnett said. “But at the same time, when I am in the box, it lets him visualize the hitter. So, in other words, you’re having a good time, but you’re also working on things.”

Burnett never swung his glove; he knew he never had a chance. Then again, not many batters do.

“I could have got a hit off him because I knew what was coming,” Burnett said with a big smile. “But no, not otherwise. I would probably have a really hard time.”

Clippard then switched spots with Bruney and he quickly revealed why he is a pitcher and not a catcher.

Clippard has been lights outs so far this season. He struck out 7 batters in 3.0 innings against the Mets on April 10. He is 3-0 with a 0.77 ERA and leads NL relievers with 11.2 innings pitched.

You have to be a different breed to be a member of the bullpen. You have to be ready to pitch every day and you have to flip that so called “switch” like a light at times. It helps to have a comedian too–it keeps things loose while watching a game a mile from the action.

“We got a great group of guys,” Burnett said. “We are a bunch of guys that get along and like to have a good time. You’ve got to be a little different in the bullpen or else it gets boring down there. But guys like Tyler Walker and stuff keep it real loose and make us laugh and smile. We have a good time. I think you have to be a close group of guys that help each other out and then battle through things.”

One of the Nats main priorities entering the offseason was revamping the bullpen. They did just that and it has paid immediate dividends.

Last year, the bullpen was a ticking time bomb that seemed to explode every outing. Last April, the bullpen went 0-8 with a 5.40 ERA (73.1 IP/ 44 ER) and blew seven of the ten save opportunities, three of which were in consecutive games against the Marlins in the ninth inning.

This year it is a different story. The bullpen was bolstered during the offseason and only Clippard and Burnett remain from the 2009 season.

We have a veteran group of guys,” Burnett said. “We have guys that have been relievers for awhile and have Big League experience. We have guys who go in there and throw strikes. I think that’s the biggest thing–that guys are going in and throwing strikes.”

The bullpen has been worked vigorously at times as some of the Nationals starters have struggled to hit their spots. It has put them  into some interesting predicaments this season–pitching 9.0 innings on Sunday and 7.0 innings on Tuesday–but they have thus far been able to weather the storm.

The long outings have slightly inflated their ERA to eighth in the NL. They are 4-2 with 4.75 ERA (60.2 IP/ 32 ER) and 7-for-8 in save opportunities. The key stat is Matt Capps is 7-for-7 in save opportunities in the ninth.

Looked at a slightly different way–when the Nats are close, ahead or the starter pitched at least five innings–the bullpen is 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA (19.1 IP/ 4 ER) with 20 strikeouts and a .224 BAA.

The bullpen has come up big in big games, and that has been the difference between 8-7 and 4-11.

Capps weathers the storm and Opening Week photos


Matt Capps first save.jpgThe thunderstorm was swiftly approaching Nationals Park, the radar map was decorated with Christmas colors and ominous clouds crept closer with each passing minute. The Head Groundkeeper John Turnour informed the umpires of the looming storm and a few fans in the park intently watched the radar map with their blackberry’s. The Nats were clinging to a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth with the heart of the Phillies’ lineup ready to create thunder of their own. After last year, it seemed only fitting that lighting would strike at Nationals Park, not the lighting from the sky but the Phillies lineup.

If it was last year, the game would have been at 7:05 p.m.–not at 4:35 p.m.–and postponed due to rain. If it was last year, the Phillies would have tied the game in the ninth. It isn’t 2009. It is a new year and there is a new team and bolstered bullpen. Newly acquired set-up man Brian Bruney pitched a scoreless top of the eighth to preserve a one run lead for closer Matt Capps.  

The bullpen gate swung open and Capps slowly made the walk from right field to the mound–the eye of the storm. Capps doesn’t try to create fear with his entry or stare, he just tries to locate his 95 mph fastball and get outs. There is nothing scary about the soft-spoken Capps. His introduction song is Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” he looks like a cuddly teddy bear and if you didn’t know any better you would bet he wouldn’t be able to grow a beard on his baby face.

He threw a couple of warm-up pitches, walked behind the mound, removed his cap, looked down at the grass and said a prayer–he would need all the help he could get against the fearsome Phillies lineup: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth.

It didn’t take long before there was a storm brewing on the field. Utley doubled and Howard was intentionally walked. Two on and zero outs typically spells tied game.

“Only the rain can save this game for the Nats,” yelled a Phillies fan.

But Capps quickly got Werth to fly out to center and Utley advanced to third.

Cool, calm and collected is Capp’s style. He would only need four more pitches, all fastballs, to get the save. He got Raul Ibanez to fly out to left and Shane Victorino to fly out to shortstop.

“To go through that lineup, you have to feel good about it,” Capps said. “It was a great feeling when Guzman caught the ball because I knew it wasn’t hit well [enough] to do any damage. Nyjer did a great job on that ball Werth hit. Nyjer getting that ball saved the game. There were a few more nerves going out in that save situation. Everything felt good today. I threw the ball well… today felt good.”

Capps nailed it down and beat the storm on the field and avoided the storm in the sky. The rain would eventually fall but the Nats were already celebrating on the train to New York. It was only one game but it was an important win and it would have been an even tougher loss, a type of loss they experienced one too many times last year.

“As we saw Bruney battle there in the eighth, and the way Capps was firing in the ninth, it was really encouraging to see because our pitching has to come together,” Jim Riggleman said. “It’s making strides. It’s coming together. When it does, it’s going to give us a chance.”

They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. I don’t know where they got that arbitrary number. I think the best pictures are worth zero words–they tell the story so you don’t have to. But for the sake of argument, let’s say a picture is worth 10,000 words. So here is a thesis paper worth of photos as we look back at the Opening Series…

 


Nats fan.JPG
nyger morgan opening day c.JPG
040510-363 ryan zimmerman c.JPG
nationals park opening day 2010.JPG
pres. obama first pitch.JPG
zimmerman and obama.JPG
obama in the booth.JPG 

Nats Caravan Day 4: Blogging from the Bus

Notes from NatsTown is blogging from the bus throughout the Nationals’ 2010 Winter Caravan.

Today is the fourth and final day of the 2010 Winter Caravan.

10:16 a.m.–As we were walking to the elevator, Adam Dunn appeared out of nowhere and jumped like Michael Jordan onto Josh Willingham’s back. Needless to say, they both fell to the ground like a bag of bricks.

“That definitely felt like 260 pounds,” Willingham said. It might have been the first time Dunn has sneaked up on anyone.

10:29 a.m.–Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow. We just left Nats Park. It is only fitting that the Caravan experiences some weather related problems after the Nats had a billion (22) rain delays during the season. This Caravan operates on the same motto as the United States Postal Service. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will stop this Nats Caravan.

Our first stop is the Children’s Hospital and then we are heading to the PG Sports Complex to sign a few autographs. We are concluding the 2010 Caravan at White Flint Mall.


CH Riggleman.jpg
CH Ryan Zimmerman.jpg11:11 a.m.–As Brian Bruney colored, “You would be the best kindergarten teacher if you didn’t play baseball,” Dibble said. That is tough to debate.

11:32 a.m.–“I can’t lose weight,” Dunn said. Piece of advice: “If you lose weight, you lose bombs.”

11:33 a.m.–“Dunn can you smile for me so I can take a picture of you,” a lady asked. “I can smile with best of them,” he said. “That is a beautiful smile Mr. Dunn,” she replied.

11:39 a.m.–Tuneesha Watson has a granddaughter in the ICU that wasn’t able to attend. She filled in perfectly. She collected an autograph from each player for her granddaughter. “It is so cool to have the players here today,” she said. “The kids will remember this forever.”


CH Nyjer Morgan.jpg12:01–We have left the Children’s Hospital.

1:13–The snow continues to fall but the wheels keep on turning.  It definitely made the trip longer… we are right by Fed Ex Field and the traffic is as congested as if it there is a Redskins game today.

1:36–Dunn threw his phone to Zimmerman as if it was a football.  It landed well short and hit the ground. “My phone is unbreakable,” Dunn said. Zimmerman threw it back. It hit the wall…a chair… and finally stopped moving when it hit the ground. It was safe… and it’s definitely unbreakable.


PG Check Giving.jpg2:17–The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation granted the Forestville Boys & Girls Club with $5,000 to assist with programming and equipment needs. The Forestville Boys & Girls Club is an organization with a 49-year history of teaching boys and girls the fundamentals of baseball.  Their work has enabled thousands of children and teens to engage in tournament competition and to learn the values of teamwork and embrace the game of baseball.


 
PG Standing By the kids.jpg“We are honored to partner with the Nationals organization on this extremely important project, and extend our heartfelt appreciation for their support of our County’s youth,” said Samuel J. Parker Jr., Chairman of the Prince George’s County Planning Board.  “We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship as we work together to teach our young people the fundamentals of leadership and responsibility through the fundamentals of the game of baseball.”


PG Signing Line.jpg3:02–Our boy Robert Probst from Dover, Del., wasn’t deterred by the snow and made the trip to the autograph session. If you remember from Day Two, he drove to Woodbridge on Thursday night. “I told you I would be here today,” he said. “There is nothing that could have stopped me.” He is also like the USPS. He left his house at 11 a.m. and it took him three and half hours to drive the 80 miles. See ya at NatsFest Robert.

3:34–We are now departing the PG County Sports Complex… and it continues to snow.

3:46–The electronic sign on 495 reads: “EXPECT MAJOR DELAYS… CHOOSE ALTERNATE ROUTE.”  Right at this moment the traffic is flowing freely (sounds more like a description of a river)… if only we knew what was ahead of us.


Road Traffic.jpg4:08–The Beltway just became a parking lot. We are seven miles away from our destination.


Road Crash.jpg4:40–We have gone two miles in 32 minutes… one of the few crashes.


Road Deer.jpg4:49–This picture doesn’t do justice but there were at least 20 deer prancing and dancing in the snow as if Santa was coming.

4:58–Riggleman made a trip to the front of the bus to talk to Harold the bus driver and possibly call in a reliever to speed things up. He returned to reveal the problem. “I think I found out what the problem is,” Riggleman said. “Traffic jam.”


Road Mustang.jpg5:03–Yeah, that car is stuck. It might have been the highlight on the journey. To its credit the car was more determined than The Little Engine that Could. There was just one problem–this car couldn’t. The Mustang tried to get out about every 30 seconds. We kept cheering for it… it didn’t exactly help.

5:25–3.6 miles away. I would be surprised if we arrive by 6 p.m.

5:45–“We are still 2.2 miles away,” Willingham said. “Does anyone have a DVD we can watch.”

6:04–We are sooooo close yet so far away. We just drove in a circle around the mall.

6:13–We made it. It only took 2 hours and 39 minutes to travel 22.2 miles.


Mall Signing Line.jpg
Mall Ol Roy.jpg7:17–The Caravan is over. It was a fantastic four days. Be sure to make it to NatsFest tomorrow.

The Nats welcome Capps to Washington


Capps 1.jpgMatt Capps received the best Christmas present he possibly could have got in the baseball world. It wasn’t from the North Pole but coming from the Nationals made it just as special. A day before Christmas, Capps agreed to a one-year deal with the Nationals. He officially unwrapped it today when he signed the contract.

 

With the Redskins naming Mike Shanahan their coach at 2 p.m., the Nationals kept the Capps signing low key and hosted an informal press conference in the cozy confines of the Nats clubhouse.

 

“This is a major, major announcement for the Washington Nationals, as important as Jason and Pudge in my opinion,” said GM Mike Rizzo, wanting to make it clear that even though it was an informal press conference, Capps is an impactful player. “He is a 26-year-old closer that we control and [can] grow with the franchise for a long time to come.”

 

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Capps is a man of faith and is everything the Nationals embody. He brings a winning attitude on and off the field and has a strong commitment to the community. He is built more like a linebacker than a closer, has a neck like a wrestler and has the hard-nosed, fearless and unflappable mindset of all three.

 

The 26-year-old Capps didn’t need much convincing on coming to Washington either. He has been impressed with the moves they have made this offseason and will have the chance to compete for the closer role–maybe the most important part. The Nats started pursuing him the minute after the Pirates non-tendered him but Capps was on Rizzo’s radar going back to last season’s trade deadline.

 

It’s nothing [Rizzo had to say],” Capps said. “He already [had] done it with the moves that he has made.”

 

The Nationals have made it their priority this offseason to bolster a bullpen that ranked last in the Majors with a 5.04 ERA. He is the latest addition during a busy offseason for the Nats and they aren’t done. They acquired reliever Brian Bruney on the first day of the Winter Meetings, signed future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to a two-year deal a few days later and signed starter and 2009 All-Star Jason Marquis right before Christmas.

 

Capps signed with Washington after spending his entire career in Pittsburgh going 19-19 with 29 holds, 67 saves and a 3.61 ERA in 271 appearances spanning five seasons (2005-09).

 


Capps 2.jpgCapps is a control specialist that consistently pounds the strike zone with a 92-96 mph fastball. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.2/1 (208 strikeouts, 50 walks) ranks second among active closers with 50 or more saves. Only Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon (4.5/1) has posted a superior SO/BB ratio using those guidelines.

 

In 2009, Capps struggled locating his fastball and his numbers ballooned: a 5.80 ERA, 73 hits and 10 home runs in 54.1 innings.

 

“As a competitor I don’t think you ever have the season you want to have unless you throw a 0.00 ERA,” Capps said. “My numbers don’t look good from last year. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing or another that went wrong. My fastball went flat and I got away from it.”

 

The Nats aren’t worried and Rizzo knows that if he didn’t struggle in 2009 he wouldn’t be a Nationals player today.

 

“When the bullpen gate swings open, I am happy that 55 (Capps) is coming out of the bullpen,” Rizzo said. “If he didn’t post a 5-plus ERA, he wouldn’t be sitting with us right now.”

 

He only signed a one-year deal but the Nats will be able to offer him arbitration after the season. Rizzo doesn’t see it as a one-year deal. Nor does Capps.

 

“I don’t want to come to Washington and play for one year,” Capps said. “I want to be an impact player, have an impact on the team going forward and be a part of it for the next…until Mr. Rizzo gets tired of me.”

 

It is safe to say, Mr. Rizzo won’t get tired as long Capps continues to retire batters.

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