When Matt Capps was going through the worst season of his career with the Pirates last season, he had stretches like these - games where it seemed nothing could go right and days where his pitches found all the trouble spots as if by GPS.
He’s back in one of those ruts now, officially. Capps blew his fourth save in six opportunities, squandering a one-run lead in the ninth inning of the Nationals’ 5-4 loss to the Reds.
After Capps gave up three runs in the ninth, the Nationals rallied for two in the bottom of the inning, but Miguel Batista gave up another run in the 10th. The concern afterward, though, was more with Capps.
He caught a bad break when Roger Bernadina missed a leaping grab on Drew Stubbs’ double to right, and replays showed Scott Rolen failed to check his swing on what would have been the third strike. But home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called the pitch a ball, and Capps hung the next pitch, a 2-2 slider that Rolen blasted to left for a three-run homer.
“His slider is the pitch that’s hurt him a couple times in recent ballgames,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “If it can go wrong for him right now, it’s going wrong. We’re not making plays when he’s out there. I felt like we could have made a play on (Daniel) Stubbs’ ball, and I thought we had (Scott) Rolen struck out. The check swing keeps coming back to haunt us; I know for a fact we had him struck out. It’s called a ball, then he throws a slider that hangs a little, and Rolen did what you’re supposed to do with a hanging slider.”
Later, Riggleman added: “I don’t know that I’ve seen a closer have this many balls that could have been played and the combination of check swings not called. For one guy, it seems like it’s always Matt. I’d be real surprised if I look at that on tape and he didn’t swing.”
Capps has been burned by bad defense and a couple controversial check-swing calls, but he’s not blaming it on that. He said he should have come back with another pitch, rather than throwing Rolen two straight sliders. His slider, in general, has been the pitch that’s hurt him lately.
“I’ve got to get on top of the baseball,” Capps said. “I’m coming around the ball. I’m not getting anything down. I’ve had a hard time the last two weeks getting my slider down. My fastball’s been down. Today when I missed, I missed up, and you can’t be successful when you do that. I’ve got to make an adjustment, and I will.”
Riggleman said he hadn’t thought about “anything like” removing Capps from the closer’s role, and after Capps started the year 16-for-16, he probably won’t. But if Capps was the main reason the Nationals started the year so well, his struggles now are a big part of why they’re 7-16 in their last 23 games.
“We still should’ve won both of those games in Houston. I should’ve been able to pick the guys up, and I didn’t,” Capps said. “Today, I thought Rolen swung, too, and I didn’t get the break there. But I’ve got to be smart enough to beat him with something else.”