Washington Nationals Introduce New Closer Matt Capps to Media

Dave Nichols@@DaveNicholsDSPSenior Analyst IJanuary 6, 2010

PITTSBURGH - MAY 10:  Matt Capps #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves on May 10, 2008 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Washington, DC -- His home white No. 55 hanging in a locker stall behind him, Matt Capps was officially introduced to the media in the intimately lit clubhouse in Nationals Park he will call home in 2010.

On hand were a small gathering of beat reporters and selected Internet writers, far from the elaborately staged press conferences of the other significant free agent signings.  There were no television reporters, no cameras of any kind, and no columnists to be seen. 

The reason: Most everyone else in sports media in D.C. was out at Redskins Park, anxiously awaiting the arrival of new coach and executive vice-president Mike Shanahan.

Those that were gathered, though, were instructed by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo that this was a "major, major announcement" and to not let the intimate setting diminish the importance of the announcement.

"This is a big day for us," Rizzo announced.  "This guy is a 26-year old closer that we control and is going to grow with us and grow with the franchise for a long time to come."

"We are excited for a player like Matt Capps to join the Nationals."

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Capps, a right-handed reliever with 67 career saves, joins the Nats after spending his entire five-year major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In 271 appearances lifetime, he is 19-19 with a 3.61 ERA with 29 holds to go along with his saves numbers.

He became the full-time closer for Pittsburgh in 2007, posting 18 saves with a 2.28 ERA, and in 2008, he had 21 saves with a 3.02 ERA.

But last season, Capps was hit hard. Opponents had a .324 batting average against him, and Capps had a 5.80 ERA and 1.656 WHIP to go along with 27 saves in 54.1 innings pitched.

Asked about the spike in his qualitative numbers, Capps responded that while his numbers "don't look good from last year," he lost some movement in his fastball for whatever reason and "kinda got backwards," relying too much on his slider and off-speed pitches.  But he's confident that he'll make a return to his 2006-07 performance.

Rizzo was more effusive in defense of Capps' high ERA last season.  "I saw a guy out there that's not afraid to go out there in the ninth inning.  To me that's criteria one."

"When the bullpen gate swings open, I'm happy No. 55 is coming out of the pen."

Rizzo also stated that the closer job was Capps' "until someone takes it from him."

Capps was "shocked" that the Pirates did not offer him arbitration, thus making him a free agent, but that it was "humbling" once the process started how many teams expressed interest in him and that it didn't take much convincing for him to come to the Nationals, a team that has lost 100-plus games two years in a row.

"I wanted to find an opportunity to win right away, with a commitment to the future.  I feel like they've done a great job showing that with the guys that they brought in [this off-season], and the guys they have brought in [previously]."

"The opportunity to continue to close, the chance to come into spring training with an opportunity to compete for that job was important to me."

"What this organization, this team has done, it's not far away."

After the Q&A concluded, Rizzo took side questions from the gathered media.  He reiterated again his marching orders for the rest of the off-season: find more pitching and stabilize the middle infield defense.

"You can never get enough talented players, you can never get enough pitching.  We're still going to be busy up until spring training, through spring training, through the season, to improve the club for 2010 and beyond."

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