LOS ANGELES — When the Dodgers host the Chicago White Sox in a three-game interleague series this weekend, Sunday’s starter will be the left-hander who leads the team with eight wins and sports an excellent ERA of 2.87. He’s a likely choice to make his second National League All-Star team and is even being mentioned by some as a Cy Young Award candidate.
The left-hander who probably pops right into your mind, of course, is the reigning Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw, who will open the series Friday night against Chris Sale in a battle between two of the top lefties in the game.
The left-hander starting the finale of the series is 8-2 Chris Capuano, the Dodgers’ leader in wins and among the most talked-about players in the game so far this season.
Coming into the year, Capuano had a career record of 57-64 with an ERA in the mid-fours. He also had missed all or parts of three seasons following two Tommy John surgeries, and had managed just one winning record in seven years — going 18-12 with Milwaukee in 2005.
He was coming off an 11-12 season with the Mets in 2011 and teams weren’t exactly falling over themselves to give him the multi-year deal he was looking for as a free agent. When GM Ned Colletti signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal, it barely made a ripple in the baseball world, except for those critics trying to figure out why Colletti would commit so much cash to a mediocre pitcher.
It wouldn’t take long for those to see what Colletti saw.
Capuano began the season with five straight wins and an ERA of 2.06. He’s without a doubt one of the key reasons the Dodgers continue to hold on to first place in the National League West and are the only team with 40 wins.
Capuano credits refining his curveball for his outstanding performance so far this season.
“I have a couple more grips now with it,” he said, “and a couple new pitches in my repertoire that I can go to. The approach is still the same, though: To attack hitters and try to get them into good counts and basically keep them from being able to guess what’s coming.
“I worked on it a lot in spring training, and so far it’s really helped.”
He’s jumped out to a 5-0 start once before — with the Brewers in 2007 — but didn’t win again that season and underwent his second Tommy John surgery, which kept him out all of 2008 and most of 2009. But he says he’s come far enough with his health that he doesn’t even think about his past elbow miseries. He also says his pitching stamina is finally back to normal.
“Early in the year last year, I had a little trouble getting through the fourth, fifth, sixth inning,’ he told the Times’ Dylan Hernandez. “I feel a lot better than last year from that standpoint. I feel like I’m able to feel stronger later in the game.”
He’s also made all 13 starts, and manager Don Mattingly says the type of pitcher Capuano is makes it tough for the opponents to game-plan for him.
“He’s a tough guy to scout,” Mattingly said. “When he was with the other teams and (we were) trying to prepare for him, he gives you a ton of different looks. He throws a lot of pitches.”
That includes the curve that may have turned the 33-year-old into an All-Star once again.
“It just adds an extra pitch that you can get ahead on,” says Dodger catcher Matt Treanor. “And (he) can strike somebody out with it. It’s a credit to him for working on it, and I think that’s a big part of his success right now — he’s not falling into any patterns.”
Except for winning games for the Dodgers on a regular basis.