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Capuano’s solid start undone by late homers

September 21, 2010

MILWAUKEE — With every start, Chris Capuano continues to make progress in his return from a second Tommy John surgery. On Monday, the 100-pitch mark was his latest milestone.

Capuano delivered an impressive performance for his third straight quality start, but back-to-back Reds home runs in the eighth made the difference as the Brewers lost their second straight game, 5-2.

Tossing six innings, Capuano gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. Reaching the century mark for the first time this season, Capuano’s pitch count of 105 was his highest since throwing 113 pitches on Aug. 19, 2007.

“This was a huge step for him,” said Brewers manager Ken Macha. “Not only getting past 100 pitches, but the game pretty much on the line [in the sixth inning]. First and second with one out, he winds up getting two big outs there.”

Since his rough return to the rotation on Aug. 28 against the Pirates, Capuano has excelled, posting a 1-2 record with a 2.58 ERA in four September starts. Over that stretch, Capuano has allowed just seven earned runs on 17 hits in 24 1/3 innings of work.

In each of his five late-season starts, Capuano has progressed with his pitch count, going from 75 pitches to 80, 83, 90 and 105 on Monday. His best outing came Sept. 8 against the Cardinals when he tossed seven innings while giving up one run on four hits.

While he wasn’t quite as sharp against the Reds, he said he felt even better.

“Physically, this was the best I’ve felt,” Capuano said. “I really felt good out there physically, and got the pitch count up there close to 100. It felt good.”

But did Capuano feel the effects of tossing 100 pitches for the first time in three years?

“No, I feel good,” Capuano answered. “Like I said, I think this is the best I’ve felt so far.”

Unfortunately for Capuano and the Brewers, they were unable to keep the Reds from reducing their magic number even further. After their win Monday, coupled with a Cardinals loss, the number was down to six.

After leaving with the game tied at 2, Capuano handed the ball off to reliever Kameron Loe, who delivered a scoreless 1 1/3 innings before letting things get away from him. With one out in the eighth, Loe (3-5) surrendered a single and back-to-back home runs as the Reds took a 5-2 lead.

Following an Orlando Cabrera single, Joey Votto belted a 2-2 fastball into the second deck in left-center field, putting the Reds on top, 4-2. Afterward, Macha was asked if he considered anyone other than Loe against Votto.

“You’ve got a way to go yet in the game,” Macha said. “[Zach] Braddock really hasn’t been on his game, and [Manny] Parra needed a day off, he had 20-some pitches.”

With no left-handers available and apparently not wanting to use closer John Axford, Macha stuck with Loe, who he viewed as his best option at the time.

Votto had struggled through his first three at-bats, going 0-for-3 against Capuano while being called out on strikes twice. His night went from bad to great with one swing of the bat in the eighth.

“The more times you face him, the better chance he has,” said Reds manager Dusty Baker. “I always say you hate to see a good hitter cold. Sooner or later the law of averages is on his side and he’s going to get somebody. That was as long of a home run to the opposite field I’ve seen.”

Added Votto: “I try not to take previous at-bats into following at-bats. I didn’t have a very good game going into that point. That’s why we play all nine innings.”

Even after the two-run homer, Loe stayed in, and Scott Rolen drove his very next pitch over the fence in right. It was the Reds’ 11th set of back-to-back home runs this season.

Loe made himself unavailable for comment after the Brewers’ 5-2 loss.

With the loss, the Brewers dropped to 36-39 at Miller Park this season. As only six home games remain on the schedule, they’ll need to win four of six to finish at .500 on the year and five of six to secure a winning home record in 2010.

Milwaukee finished 40-41 at home last year after posting four consecutive winning home records. Lately, the bright spot has been the Brewers’ ability to compete with some of the league’s best — or hottest — teams in the Reds, Phillies, Cardinals, Giants and Astros.

Offensively, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks provided the only bright spots for the Brewers. Weeks went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored, while Braun drove in a pair of runs and doubled. Braun’s two RBIs moved him one behind third baseman Casey McGehee, who leads the Brewers with 94 runs batted in.

As it has been most of the season, the problem for the offense was delivering hits with runners in scoring position. The most obvious example came in the second inning, when Carlos Gomez led off with an infield single and reached third on a throwing error with none out. With three straight strikeouts, the Brewers left Gomez stranded at third.

“Gomez is on third, nobody out, we didn’t put the ball in play,” Macha said. “Little things like that hurt you when you’ve got tight games.”

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