Prior to Friday evening’s 11-0 blowout game between the Dodgers and Rockies in which Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw undoubtedly secured his second Cy Young Award in three years, another Dodger lefty became the topic of discussion during the sixth annual ‘Blogger’s Night’ when Dodger general manager Ned Colletti was asked which was more important for the team heading into the playoffs – an extra bat off the bench or a long reliever out of the bullpen?
Colletti’s answer was quite elaborate but also quite clear – more World Series championships have been won by teams that were able to shut down rallies by their opponents with long relief help out of the bullpen, in many cases by a starting pitcher who had been moved to the bullpen specifically for the playoffs. Colletti mentioned the names of several such pitchers including that of Tim Lincecum, who just last year proved to be huge out of the bullpen and was instrumental in the Giants winning their second World Championship in three years.
In Friday night’s lopsided Dodger win, oft injured left-hander Chris Capuano made his first appearance since suffering a groin injury on September 6 during his start in Cincinnati. During Capuano’s three-week recovery period, Dodger manager Don Mattingly told the media that if Capuano recovered from his latest injury in time for the playoffs, he would be delegated to the bullpen as a long reliever or perhaps as a spot starter. With Friday’s game well in hand, Mattingly brought in Capuano to pitch the 8th inning.
Not only did Capuano get through the inning without allowing a base runner, he struck out Rockies shortstop Josh Rutledge and catcher Jordan Pacheco looking and induced left fielder Chris Dickerson to hit a line drive right into the glove of Dodger shortstop Dee Gordon. Simply put, Capuano’s 92-93 MPH sinker and his 81-83 MPH change-up were unhittable. (The line out was on an 87 MPH slider).
It’s safe to say that Capuano had all but fallen off the radar for most Dodger fans for a playoff roster spot, but after his 12-pitch 8th inning on Friday, he is very much back in the mix for the playoff long reliever role along with fellow starters Ricky Nolasco and Edinson Volquez. In fact, according to Mattingly, Capuano may actually be ahead of both on the playoff depth chart.
“With Cap(uano), just getting him out there, it just gives us an option,” said Mattingly after the game. “It gives us a chance to see him and see what he looks like.”
Asked if there was any chance that Capuano might make the NLDS roster, Mattingly didn’t hesitate to answer.
“We haven’t got into that roster yet but he’s one of the guys we’ve had all year long,” answered Mattingly. “He would be out of the bullpen if we go that route (which) gives us three, so you never know.”
Given Nolasco’s recent blow-up innings in each of his last three starts and Volquez’s propensity for walking one or two guys an inning (and then somehow managing to pitch his way out of trouble), it is now quite possible that Capuano could be Mattingly’s first choice out of the bullpen in a long-relief situation, should one become necessary. And though Capuano is anything but a dominating power arm, when his sinker, change-up and curveball are on (as they were on Friday night), he may very well be Mattingly’s (and the Dodgers) best option.
Whoda thunk it.