Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates' Capps learns his lesson

BRADENTON —The Pittsburgh Pirates ended their 2008 season on a Sunday in San Diego.

The following day, Matt Capps began prepping for 2009, putting to practice everything he learned from the most challenging season of his young big-league career.

“I can’t take an offseason off, expect to come into spring training and just use these three or four weeks to get into shape,” Pittsburgh’s closer said Saturday at Pirate City. “You’ve got to stay on top of it. I learned that the hard way last year.”

Capps missed nearly two months of the season because of bursitis in his right shoulder, landing on the disabled list on July 2 and returning to the big club Aug. 24.

“It wasn’t a whole lot of fun,” he said.

He didn’t throw a baseball for two weeks, watching the Pirates play on television, wishing he could help while worrying about what was going on inside his body.

So Capps carried his rehabilitation exercises into this offseason regimen, all while adding more cardio and running into his routine.

Last year, Capps didn’t begin working out until January.

“I’ve never been scared of working,” he said. “Now, I’m a little smarter.

“I think this is the path I need to take for the rest of my career.”

A healthy Capps has been a reliable Capps thus far in his career. He converted 18 of 20 chances after being moved into the closer’s role in June 2007, and was 4-for-4 when he returned last August. He recorded 21 saves overall.

“Once I came back and it felt good, the confidence came back,” Capps said. “Before that, I wasn’t at 100 percent. So I was just going out there, doing what I can. I didn’t really have that fire that you need.”

Manager John Russell appreciates Capps’ mental make-up, as well. Being the closer is more than just walking out of the bullpen with three outs to go in a close game.

It requires constant awareness, regardless of the score.

“You’ve got to stay mentally prepared — games we’re down four or five runs late, you can’t start to relax in case we score three or four runs or take the lead,” Russell said. “He’s trained himself very well to take every game as if it’s going to be a save situation. Not only does he prepare physically for it, but mentally, he prepares himself every day.”

Now he’s preparing better than he has in the past, looking to avoid last year’s stint on the disabled list.

It wasn’t fun. But Capps may be better off for it.

“I feel a lot better. I’m in great shape, my shoulder feels good,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse than it was. If I would have kept pitching, even a couple more weeks even, it could have been a whole lot worse. I’m pretty fortunate I said something when I did and they caught it when they did.”