Santana, Capuano couldn’t be more different

ANAHEIM, Calif — Saturday afternoon’s starting pitchers for the Dodgers and Angels couldn’t be having seasons that are any more different.

Not much was expected from left-hander Chris Capuano, a free-agent pickup by the Dodgers, whose career has been one of ups and downs, often interrupted by injuries.
A lot was expected from Angels’ right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 17 games over .500 in his career and had thrown a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians last season.

However, as June gets ready to morph into July, it’s the crafty Capuano who’s chasing an All-Star berth, while Santana — who is pitching better than he had earlier this season — is just hoping to hold onto his starting job — and his Halos’ uniform. 

Even though the 29-year-old Dominican on Saturday had his ninth career double-figure strikeout game, he can’t seem to get it all together — even when he throws a good game, he gets very little help.  And as unlikely as it seemed a few weeks ago, there’s a flood of speculation that Santana will be sent to the bullpen or maybe even traded with the emergence of Garrett Richards — who is 2-0 with an 0.86 ERA since joining the rotation.

Santana — who threw 46 pitches in the first two innings — was betrayed by his defense all game long; in the first inning when throwing errors by first baseman Albert Pujols and third baseman Maicer Izturis gave the Dodgers a pair of runs, and in the 6th when left fielder Mark Trumbo took a bad angle on a Dee Gordon hit that ended up as a triple. Gordon scored on Jerry Hairston Jr.’s single, making the score 3-1. 

It’s been a much more positive scenario for Capuano, whose new grip on his curveball has turned him into one of the game’s best pitchers so far in 2012, coming away with his ninth win in 11 decisions as the Dodgers held off the Angels 3-1.

Capuano made sure that the Angels’ offense was unable to help Santana, mixing speed and location — with well-timed double play balls from sluggers Trumbo and Kendrys Morales — to choke off potential scoring opportunities and hand Santana (4-8) the loss.  Capuano went seven innings, giving up seven hits, one earned run and striking out four to lower his ERA to 2.60.

With the All-Star Game in Kansas City just a few weeks away, the question is quickly becoming not if Capuano will make the NL squad, but whether he can end up starting for Tony LaRussa’s team.

He said making the team would be a nice accolade, but Dodger success comes first and provides more joy for him.

“Individual achievements are nice and it’s nice to (possibly) get recognized,” Capuano said. “But it doesn’t mean as much as this team getting in the playoffs and going far. At this point, after missing a couple of years, it’s a lot simpler than that in what I take pleasure in. I enjoy just being out here and I enjoy just making pitches. If the results go my way, then that’s a bonus to (me).”

At a few points this season, the Dodgers have had a chance to quit — injuries to Matt Kemp and others; a five-game losing streak last month that included four in a row to Milwaukee at Dodger Stadium; then the five losses out of six going into Saturday’s game. Capuano says that while others may be expecting the team to fold, no one in the Dodger clubhouse has similar thoughts.

“There’s no quit in us,” said the 2006 All-Star, “and that’s a reflection of the character of (manager) Don (Mattingly); that’s the way he played and that’s the way he (manages). We take that on and we know we have to do the little things — execute, not give away at-bats and play solid defense if we’re going to win. So, that’s what we try to do.”

Sometimes those little things include the right pitch at the perfect time. Angels’ first baseman Albert Pujols said Capuano was able to do that all afternoon and evening — game time was at 4 p.m. and provided enough shadows to make things tough on the batter.

“He was mixing his pitches in and out and keeping us off-balance,” Pujols said. “But it was also pretty tough to see the ball after the second inning with those shadows out there. I’m not making any excuses, but you should have seen the way both sides were taking swings. It was ridiculous. You can’t take anything away from Capuano, though. He threw a great game, kept the ball down and made the pitches when he needed to and got a couple of double plays.”

And he may have earned himself a chance to perform in the Midsummer Classic in KC on July 10th.

NOTES: Richards will oppose the Dodgers’ Aaron Harang (5-4, 3.76) in Sunday’s series finale at 12:35 p.m. …… With his 2-4 performance, Gordon broke an 0-17 skid. He’s hit safely in 22 of 29 games since May 22 …… The Dodgers still lead the National League with a 43-29 record. The Angels are 39-33, five games behind division-leading Texas in the American League West.