PEORIA, Ariz. — Something different and important happened during Carter Capps’ most recent Cactus League outing on St. Patrick’s Day at Peoria Stadium.
Capps came in to pitch the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers. On paper, it was an ordinary 1-2-3 inning with Capps striking out the first two batters. Within those strikeouts was a sequence of pitches that revealed Capps’ growth from a guy known as a flamethrower who wants to be known as pitcher.
Capps made quick work of leadoff hitter Jeff Baker, pumping three fastballs by him for a strikeout – the slowest of which registered 95 mph on the radar gun.
Feeling the adrenaline that comes with a strikeout, Capps blew a 97 mph fastball by
Brandon Snyder to start the next count.
But what happened next was unexpected and critical for the development of the right-hander for the upcoming season.
Ahead in the count, Capps eschewed his fastball. Instead, he snapped off a perfect slider that Snyder could only wave at.
Up 0-2, it seemed likely Capps would throw a high-90s mph fastball right past Snyder. Nope, Capps threw another slider, burying it in the dirt trying to get Snyder to chase. It didn’t work, but Snyder was leaning.
Surely the next pitch would be a fastball. Capps would never throw three consecutive breaking pitches, not with his blazing fastball. But that’s what he did. The third slider cut off the plate outside. Again, Snyder was out on his front foot, clearly not expecting the off-speed pitch.
After three straight breaking balls, Capps cooly blew a 95 mph fastball right by Snyder for the strikeout.
Still, the message was delivered to opposing hitters – Carter Capps is no longer a one-pitch pitcher.
He tried to downplay his performance.
“I was just trying to work on it,” he said. “It felt good, and so I kept throwing (off-speed pitches).”
The fact that he’s trying to work on expanding his repertoire is important.
The slider hasn’t always felt good to Capps. He has struggled with command. And with those struggles came a loss of confidence in the pitch – a pitch that needs to be thrown with confidence.
Still, the thing he learned in his brief call-up to the Mariners late last season is that a slider is a pitch he needs to be successful.
“You’ve got to have another pitch to get guys out,” Capps said. “Guys in the big leagues are so good that they are going to hit your fastball in the end, it’s just matter of time.”
Capps appeared in 18 games last season, pitching 25 innings and posting a 3.96 earned-run average. He struck out 28 hitters and walked 11. And he did it by almost exclusively throwing fastballs.
According to Fangraphs and Pitch F/X data, 82.6 percent of Capps’ pitches last season were fastballs. Sure, his fastball averaged 97.8 mph, but it doesn’t matter in the big leagues. By the end of the season, hitters were cheating on the fastball and hitting it.
“The scouting reports are so advanced,” Capps said. “They know exactly what you have. They know what you can throw for a strike and what you can’t, and they take advantage of it.”
Capps isn’t the first young pitcher to have hitters catch up to his heat.
“He learned a great deal,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “The league showed him you need to use all of your pitches.”
Capps knows all the reasons why.
“If you can make your fastball look a little faster by throwing some breaking balls in there, you are only helping yourself out,” he said. “If you can throw it for a strike in fastball counts, you are going to so much tougher.”
The spring work has been beneficial so far, although dry air of Arizona doesn’t make it easy for gripping the ball and generating movement.
“It’s actually good because you have to stay on top of the ball to throw it,” he said of the conditions. “If you get a feel for it now, it will move more when you pitch in more humid places.”
Capps has had a feel for the pitch most of the spring.
“It’s pretty good,” he said. “I’m throwing it well. Hopefully, I can continue to do it. I’m really happy with it.
Capps is even working on his change-up, too.
“Some guys can get away with having just two pitches, but I feel like I might need two or three,” he said.
He just wants people to know he has more than one.
“Some people don’t even know if I have a breaking ball, they are only worried about the fastball,” he said. “There’s a lot more to pitching to than just fastballs and velocity.”
GARLAND A GONER?
The Mariners have a decision to make with Jon Garland, and they have to make it today.
Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik will have to decide whether to keep the veteran right-hander on their 25-man roster to start the season or to release him from his contract.
Garland’s contract has an opt-out clause that kicks in today if the Mariners don’t guarantee him a spot on the roster. Garland wants to know immediately.
“Tomorrow,” Garland said after his start on Thursday night. “That’s my out clause.”
Garland pitched six innings, giving up two runs — both on solo homers — on five hits with three strikeouts and a walk. He threw 70 pitches and could have thrown more.
“I think I’ve shown them everything I can,” Garland said. “Now the decision is on them. There are a lot of young arms that have proven themselves worthy. It’s going to be a tough decision on them.”
Wedge said he would meet with Zduriencik and his coaches to make a decision.
“We need to get together and figure out what we are going to do,” Wedge said.
One major factor is that Garland isn’t on Seattle’s 40-man roster, so the Mariners would have to make room for him by designating another player for assignment — and run the risk of losing that player if another team claims him off waivers.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of moving parts when it comes to our starting rotation,” Wedge said. “It’s not just about him. It’s about everybody that’s involved with this. That’s they way we have to look at it.”
Garland understands. And he understands the value of a healthy starting pitcher who has 10-plus years of major league experience.
“There’s been scouts in the stands every time I’ve thrown,” he said. “If they don’t want to keep me, I think there might be a phone call for me
“And like I said before, if not, I will be poolside at the house, hanging out.”
Jason Bay started in center field for the Mariners. That’s a little uncommon because Bay hasn’t started in a regular-season game in center field since 2005 with the Pirates. But Bay said he played a few games in center last year during spring training with the Mets and also in 2009 for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. “It’s probably not my long-term position out there, but I think I can definitely fill in in a pinch,” he said. Oliver Perez, Lucas Luetge and Capps all threw in a minor league game on Thursday to get in their work because of the off day on Wednesday. Oufielder Carlos Peguero was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, pitcher Carson Smith and infielder Nick Franklin were reassigned to the minor league camp. Former Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima stopped by the clubhouse. He was in town with a Japanese film crew.
SPRING TRAINING RECAP
CUBS 7, MARINERS 4 (AT PEORIA STADIUM)
The facts: The Mariners had their six-game winning streak snapped at home when the Cubs scored seven runs on 12 hits. Seattle did have 11 hits, including a solo homer from Justin Smoak, to push their major league-leading total to 46 this spring. Jason Bay went 3-for-4 with three singles. Robert Andino and Dustin Ackley had two hits each.
Who was hot: Smoak continues to be on fire this spring. The big first baseman ripped his fourth homer and added a sacrifice fly to score another run off Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija.
Who was not: Erasmo Ramirez struggled in relief. Normally a starter, he pitched two innings and allowed four runs on six hits, and served up a homer Alberto Gonzalez. Ramirez had been sharp most of the spring but couldn’t put hitters away when het got ahead in counts.
Quotable: “He did a good job of getting ahead, but didn’t finish hitters off. That’s just something he has to do a better job of. He’s been pitching well this spring, but tonight for whatever reason he wasn’t finishing pitches off when he was ahead in the count and he got hurt by it.” – manger Eric Wedge on Ramirez.
On tap: The Mariners continue their run of night games when they play the San Diego Padres at 7:05 p.m. today at Peoria Stadium. Seattle will be the visiting team. Felix Hernandez will start for the Mariners. Also scheduled to pitch are Carter Capps and Kameron Loe. The Padres will start right-hander Tyson Ross. The game will be broadcast locally on 710-AM. There will be no televised broadcast.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish email@example.com