Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for August 22nd, 2010

Persistence Pays Off, Part II — Chris Capuano Wins Again. Also Ben Sheets Surgery Update.

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This past week hasn’t been much fun; I celebrated my birthday while dealing with a nasty sinus infection, and thus my blog was inactive during that time as I hadn’t much to write about — or at any rate, what I would’ve tried to write wouldn’t have made much sense due to feeling so terrible.

But last night, I had another epiphany, and thus, a second blog post about Brewers left-handed pitcher Chris Capuano.  Capuano, as you might recall, has returned to the major leagues after having a second “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery performed in mid-2008.  His rehabilitation was extensive, and without a whole lot of faith in himself, along with a great deal of hard work rehabilitating his surgically-repaired left arm, he’d never have returned to pitch again, period — much less in the majors.

But he has, and he has pitched for the most part with amazing efficiency — or to be less unnecessarily wordy, he’s been very good indeed, one of the best pitchers the Brewers have had during this lost season of 2010.

Last evening, Capuano came in after Yovani Gallardo — the Brewers’ best starting pitcher, and their supposed “ace” of the staff thereby — gave up six earned runs (ERs) in only three and one third innings pitched.  He left the bases loaded, too, meaning if those runners had scored, nine runs would’ve been charged to Gallardo.

So what did Capuano do?  He mopped up the damage, that’s what.  He got out of the fourth inning with none of Gallardo’s runs scoring — and pitched 3 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball.  Eleven men up, and eleven men down — no hits, only one walk, and one double-play ball which wiped the walk off the board.

This was Chris Capuano’s first win at Miller Park since May of 2007.  And in it, he also went one for two in hitting — getting his first hit in the bigs since 2007.  See this post about the game, although it did not stress enough to my mind the magnitude of Chris Capuano’s second win:

At any rate, you probably see where, if Chris Capuano were a different sort of person, all that rehab might’ve put him off from returning to baseball.  You can also see that Chris Capuano, fortunately for the Brewers, has more dedication, drive and determination than most people — because it’s incredibly difficult to recuperate from one “Tommy John” surgical procedure to pitch well.  It’s even more difficult to recover from two.

Chris Capuano’s stats for the season are now two wins, two losses.  He’s started two games, winning one, losing one.  He has a 3.86 ERA in 28 innings pitched, with 8 walks, 27 strikeouts (Ks), and has given up three home runs.  These may not seem like outstanding stats, but consider how hard this man has worked — then consider the Brewers staff pitching ERA average of 4.90, and the fact that only Yovani Gallardo, Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe and John Axford have lower ERAs on the entire Brewers staff of thirteen pitchers.

Chris Capuano is now thirty-two years old.  He’s recovered from two surgeries that are life-altering for pitchers; usually, if a pitcher works hard and is fortunate, he can recover from one such procedure.  Only rarely has a pitcher recovered from two on the same arm — and Chris Capuano is, if not the first, possibly the second pitcher in the majors to have returned from two “Tommy John” surgeries.

I mention this because another of my favorite players, former Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets, recently had a surgery so extensive that it was reported by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (Web site as a “surgery (that) involved every structure in the elbow — both tendons and the ligament — ” that Slusser was:

“amazed he was pitching with that kind of damage, and he wasn’t getting shelled; he was adequate.  That’s extraordinary.  There was basically nothing working in his elbow.”

The rest of Slusser’s blog from 8/11/10 is available here:

Sheets, like Capuano, is thirty-two years old.   He’ll be nearly thirty-four (and that only because he has a July birthday)  if — and when — he can attempt a comeback.   His surgery has been called the “most extensive” in the history of baseball — this headline at NBC Sports Hardball Talk on 8/11/2010 says it all:

Ben Sheets just had the most massive surgery in the history of pitching

Or how about this headline from the Contra Costa Times of 8/11/2010 — 

A’s update: Pitcher Ben Sheets faces long odds after undergoing Tommy John surgery

This article points out that Sheets is looking at nearly a two-year rehab cycle to rehab his surgically repaired right elbow, complete with both tendons and the “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery.   And he’s a pitcher, unlike Capuano, who’s always relied on his plus-fastball and his plus-curveball (meaning he throws high heat, really fast, over 90 mph fastballs with serious movement on them, and the curveball he has moves so much that it’s not only hard to hit, it’s hard to catch, besides) to win in major league ball, whereas Capuano was always a control pitcher.  These surgeries do take a toll on the arm and they do lower the velocity on the fastball for most pitchers; it will be harder for Sheets to be effective in the majors afterward even if his rehab goes successfully.  (As I sincerely hope it will.)

Sheets ended his season with a 4.53 ERA, a 4-9 record (a bit deceptive; the A’s didn’t give Sheets much in the way of run support), and a walks plus hits per inning (WHIP) rating of 1.39, the highest in his career.  But as Ms. Slusser said, basically nothing was working in Sheets’ elbow; it’s amazing Sheets struck out 84 guys while walking 43 in 119 1/3 innings, considering that datum.

At any rate, Chris Capuano was always known to Brewers fans as a “workout warrior” while Ben Sheets was considered, at best, to be a guy who would rather pitch than do running, stretching, weight training, or anything else pitchers are supposed to do these days to keep themselves in shape.  This perception of Sheets by Brewers fans is probably less than accurate, especially considering Sheets’ recovery from his surgery after the 2008 season for a torn labrum (a different elbow ailment) took all of 2009 to rehab.  So it’s obvious Sheets can and will rehabilitate serious injuries — the main question here is, can he do it twice, as has Capuano?  And can he do it at an advanced age for any pitcher, much less a power pitcher like Ben Sheets?

Granted, Capuano (who’s now 32) was able to come back from two serious surgeries.  But it took him nearly two years the second time, and he had to swallow a great deal of pride, no doubt, when he signed a minor league deal with the Brewers in ’09 (he was in the low minors, mostly rehabilitating, toward the end of August last year), then again in ’10.

Chris Capuano has shown that it’s possible for someone with a strong will and a strong gift to win out over a recalcitrant body.  I hope Ben Sheets will be able to do the same; I hope his body will let him.   I do know that Sheets should be well aware of Capuano and the struggles Capuano had returning to the majors, because Sheets and Capuano were teammates for many years, though were never known to be close friends.

At any rate, the lesson here for writers, or for anyone at all, is the same as my first post about Chris Capuano — persist.  Keep trying.  Don’t give up.  Don’t lose hope.  Or if you do, shake it off and keep trying some more.  Because that is literally the only way — the only way — to win.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 22, 2010 at 2:16 am