Biertempfel: Ex-Pirates closer Capps wonders if workload led to injuries
Matt Capps sits in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, and wonders if he will ever pitch again. He wonders if surgery will make his balky right shoulder stop hurting at the cost of his career. And he wonders if the 85 appearances he made out of the Pirates' bullpen in 2006 had anything to do with it all.
Seven years ago, as he navigated a 95-loss season, Pirates manager Jim Tracy went to the whip with closer Salomon Torres and Capps. Torres appeared in 94 games, the third-highest single-season total in MLB history. Capps, then a 23-year-old rookie, pitched in 85 games — not counting the dozen or so times he warmed up but was not used.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's the only time a big league team had one reliever make 90-plus outings and another make 85-plus in the same season.
“It's tough to say if that played a role in me getting hurt down the road,” Capps said. “As an athlete, you're wired to compete. You want to pitch every day, even on days when your body doesn't feel like it should.”
“But here I am today, on the DL again with an (injured) shoulder.”
In 2007, Torres' performance slipped enough for Capps to supplant him as closer. Torres was traded to Milwaukee before the '08 season, after which he retired at age 36.
“He was still fairly young,” Capps said. “He got out while he was healthy.”
In 2008, Capps went on the disabled list for the first time with arm problems. After Capps put up a 5.80 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 2009, he was non-tendered by the Pirates.
Shoulder injuries have forced Capps to miss 79 games over the past two seasons. This year, he made six relief outings for Columbus, the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A club, before going on the disabled list again.
“The DL (stinks),” Capps said. “I saw Dr. (James) Andrews, got an MRI (exam) and got an injection. I hope I can be playing again in two weeks. If not, I'll get the surgery and maybe give it one last try next year.”
Every season, there are a handful of relievers who pitch in 85 or more games. Over the past decade, only Torres and the Mets' Pedro Feliciano, who made 92 outings in 2010, have topped 90.
Capps' workload in 2006 was not far off the major league record for a rookie reliever. The Tigers' Sean Runyan pitched in a major league-leading 88 games in 1998. He had shoulder surgery in 2009 then made just three more appearances before retiring.
Scott Proctor worked in 83 games in 2006 and '07 then had Tommy John surgery in 2009. By 2012, he was out of baseball.
“A player's career is short enough,” Capps said. “You can't overwork a guy who's 25, 26 years old. There's too much future value there. You can't put a guy's health and his career at risk.”
Last week, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle took heat on Twitter and talk radio for not using setup man Mark Melancon in a game in which the Pirates trailed, 3-2, in the eighth inning. The Pirates wound up losing, 6-2.
It was the 31st game of the season, and Melancon already had made a team-high 16 appearances. If Melancon would have pitched, it would've put him on track for 89 outings — which would tie him for 11th-most in MLB history. He is 28 years old.
“I admire Hurdle for not putting his player at risk for one game,” Capps said. “It's a team sport. Somebody else in the bullpen should be able to take the ball once in a while.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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