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Notebook: Bucs' Capps moves closer to return

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008

Closer Matt Capps continues to take a fast track back to the Pirates' bullpen.

Capps has been on the disabled list since July 2 with bursitis and an internal rotation deficit in his throwing shoulder. The Pirates originally thought the right-hander would miss up to eight weeks.

However, Capps is expected to rejoin the team by the end of the month, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

Capps will pitch two innings today for Triple-A Indianapolis and might go again Tuesday for Double-A Altoona. After that ... Pittsburgh?

"If that goes well, he's getting pretty close," manager John Russell said.

"He's going to want to jump right back into the fire. We'll see. Hopefully, we'll have two or three blowouts, so he can kind of ease his way back in.

"But if I know Matt, if we have a lead in the ninth, I'll look up and he'll already be warming up in the bullpen."

Usually, losing a closer for even two weeks will hit a team hard. The New York Mets' bullpen, for example, has been a train wreck since Billy Wagner went on the DL with a strained forearm.

Yet, the Pirates have weathered Capps' absence well. Damaso Marte (before he was traded), John Grabow, Craig Hansen and Tyler Yates have handled ninth-inning duties.

Heading into spring training, there were concerns that the bullpen would be a liability this season. However, the group -- which includes newcomers Yates, Hansen, Denny Bautista and T.J Beam and converted starter Sean Burnett -- has been solid.

"We've pieced it together with some pretty good arms," Russell said. "You've got to compliment Neal (Huntington, general manager) for bringing those guys in."

Going into last night's game against the Mets, the Pirates' bullpen had amassed 28 relief wins, tops in the majors, and led all National League relief corps with 4241/3 innings pitched.

Locker switch

When Xavier Nady was traded, Steve Pearce inherited Nady's locker on the left side of the clubhouse.

It's a prime location, with easy access to the indoor batting cage and players' lounge. It's also next to Adam LaRoche's locker.

On Thursday, Pearce was relocated across the clubhouse to the stall where Jason Bay used to dress.

The new tenant of the former Nady/Pearce locker is Andy LaRoche.

After the Pirates got his younger brother in the Bay trade, Adam LaRoche jokingly said he'd have to "kick Pearce out" when the team returned from its road trip.

By all accounts, Pearce made the move willingly.

"He just offered it," Andy LaRoche said. "Nice guy."

Pearce said he never even thought about demanding some sort of payment or favor from the LaRoche brothers in exchange for the locker.

"No big deal," Pearce said. "Maybe this locker has more hits in it."

Running to a record

Outfielder Nyjer Morgan stole five bases Friday during Triple-A Indianapolis' 6-5 loss against Durham. Morgan's five thefts tied a 72-year-old team record.

In the first inning, Morgan walked, then stole second, third and home. He has 43 steals this season, second most in the International League.

Best tools

Indianapolis outfielder Andrew McCutchen was tabbed by Baseball America as the "most exciting player" in the International League. McCutchen, the Pirates' top prospect, was hitting .276 with nine homers, 44 RBI and 28 stolen bases in 114 games.

The magazine rated Neil Walker as being the IL's best defensive third baseman. It's quite an honor, considering Walker was converted to third base just one year ago. He has a .946 fielding percentage this season.

Right-hander Jimmy Barthmaier has the best breaking ball in the league, according to BA. Barthmaier is 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA in 12 starts for Indy.

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