Capps looks to capitalize on second chance
Returns to Twins' closer role after struggling in 2011
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After struggling last year and ultimately being relieved of his closer duties in mid-July, Matt Capps is out to prove he can be an effective closer again.
Capps, who posted a 4.25 ERA and blew nine saves in 24 opportunities for the Twins in 2011, said last season left a sour taste in his mouth, and that's why he re-signed with the Twins this offseason.
"I feel like I let a lot of people down last year -- myself, the fans, especially [former general manager] Bill Smith and the organization when they made the trade that they made," said Capps, who signed a one-year deal with an option for 2013. "They expected me to perform at a level higher than what I did last year and that didn't happen. I certainly felt like I wanted to come back here and do better by everybody. That's the bottom line. That's why I'm here."
Capps, 28, was referencing the 2010 trade that sent catching prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals shortly before the Trade Deadline.
Capps flourished with the Twins in the second half of that season, posting a 2.00 ERA and picking up 16 saves in 27 innings to help lead the club to the playoffs. But last year was largely forgettable for Capps, while Ramos emerged as a rising star in Washington.
But Capps said the specifics of the trade aren't what bother him, it's the fact he didn't perform up to expectations last year.
"Whoever they traded me for, if it was a box of balls, they gave something in return for me," Capps said. "They came out and said, 'We want you, this is how bad we want you and this is what we're willing to do to get you.' It's always a good thing to feel wanted. At the end of last year, I felt like I let a lot of people down. When the opportunity came about for me to return for me to come back here, I jumped on it as quick as I could."
Capps still has a believer in Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who expects Capps to bounce back to his 2010 form, when he had a 2.47 ERA and 42 saves.
Gardenhire has maintained that Capps battled a forearm injury last season, and that he never complained or asked to be held out because of it.
"I think you let people down when you don't give it everything you have and that's never been the case with Matt Capps," Gardenhire said. "Maybe he didn't get the job done that he was asked to do. But he didn't let people down. He gave it everything he had. His full heart and courage and everything he has is into it. When you let people down, it's because you don't give it everything you have."
Capps said the key for him staying healthy this season starts with Spring Training, as he was never allowed to fully stretch himself out last spring. He said in the past, he'd usually throw at least one three-inning stint, and that he'd like to do that again.
"I'm certainly going to talk to them about getting back to preparing the old way, kind of like a sprinter might go out and run five miles every now and then," Capps said. "I might want to throw three innings just to kind of build the arm up a little bit."
Capps said it's also easier to prepare knowing that he's the closer going into the season, considering at this point last year he was competing for the role with Joe Nathan.
Nathan, who was coming off Tommy John surgery, was ultimately named closer, but lost the role to Capps in mid-April, before regaining it in mid-July.
After Nathan departed as a free agent for Texas, Capps is back in his familiar role as closer, and is expected to be flanked by setup relievers Glen Perkins and Joel Zumaya.
Perkins and Zumaya could be safety nets if Capps struggles again, but Perkins, who had a breakout year in '11, said he expects Capps to capably handle his role as closer.
"Capps will have a little bit of a bounce-back year," Perkins said. "He's a better pitcher than what he showed last year, and I think everybody knows that."
And even though he's entrenched as the club's closer, Capps said he's still going to use last year as motivation and won't be taking anything for granted.
"You have a little more hunger," Capps said. "You've been humbled a little bit. Maybe a different drive. But nonetheless, after going to the playoffs [in '10] I still came to Spring Training feeling like I had to win a job and earn a job and prove myself all over again. That's kind of how I feel every Spring Training and this year is no different."