Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Matt Capps, dumped by the Pirates in December, is now an All-Star with the Nats.
Matt Capps arrived in Washington in December determined to prove the Pittsburgh Pirates made a collosal mistake by not tendering him a contract. On Sunday, he solidified that case with definitive proof of his worth: A spot on the All-Star team.
Capps, not rookie Stephen Strasburg, was selected to represent the Nationals in Anaheim next week, chosen by his peers after an impressive first half that included 22 saves.
"That's what you play for. You play to be the best," the right-hander said. "To be recognized for it is extra special."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who was tasked with naming the final 10 members of his National League roster, said he did give strong consideration to Strasburg. Ultimately, the 21-year-old's lack of experience -- he's 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA in six big-league starts -- overshadowed his dominance and celebrity.
"He is going to be an All-Star for a long time," Manuel said during the All-Star Selection Show on TBS. "What does he have, [six] starts? I just felt there are other guys who have started 18 to 20 games. I just felt: Leave him alone and let him get used to the major-league level."
Major League Baseball still could have included Strasburg as one of the five NL players competing for the "Final Man" vote, but shied away from the rookie pitcher and instead put teammate Ryan Zimmerman on the ballot.
"As far as [Strasburg's] numbers and his stats, I don't believe he deserved to be on the All-Star team this year," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Too many people would have been left off if he had been put on. There's many All-Star Games in his future if he stays healthy. And he'd rather have it done the right way and done legitimately."
Zimmerman, who leads all NL third basemen in runs, ranks third on on-base percentage and OPS and is the reigning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards winner at his position, lost out to the Mets' David Wright and the Reds' Scott Rolen for a spot on the 33-man roster. He'll compete with Reds first baseman Joey Votto, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, Padres closer Heath Bell and Braves closer Billy Wagner for the 34th and final spot. Fan voting takes place on MLB.com through 4 p.m. EDT Thursday.
Zimmerman went to last year's All-Star Game in St. Louis as a first-time participant. Capps will get to enjoy that experience next week with an honor few could have foreseen only six months ago.
Unceremoniously dumped by the Pirates in December after going 4-8 with a 5.80 ERA, Capps signed a week later with the Nationals for $3.5 million. The 26-year-old immediately asserted himself as a stabilizing force at the back end of one of the majors' best bullpens, successfully converting his first 16 save opportunities.
"For things to have ended the way they did last season," he said, "to be able to bounce back and come here with a new beginning with this team and this group of guys, it is a little extra special."
Capps admitted he had no idea All-Star rosters were going to be announced Sunday. When he arrived at Nationals Park in the morning and was summoned by pitching coach Steve McCatty into the manager's office, he feared bad news.
The fear quickly turned to emotional jubilation when Rizzo told Capps he'd been named an All-Star. Thoughts immediately turned to his father, Mike, who died in October of a heart attack.
"It kind of hit me this morning when they told me," Capps said. "I wish he could see it, but he'll be with me."
For those who have known him over the years, Capps' All-Star nod was sweet recognition.
"I couldn't be happier for the guy," said center fielder Nyjer Morgan, who came up through the Pirates' farm system with Capps. "Especially with what happened to him during the offseason and all the adversity he's had to go through. I'm out of words. I don't really know how to express my feelings, because he's such a good friend of mine."
A one-time failed starter in the minors who wound up making it in Pittsburgh as a top closer, Capps plans to bring several family members with him to Anaheim for an All-Star Game that will serve as the emotional culmination of an eventful nine months.
"It's been a long, fun road," he said. "I wouldn't trade any of it, the ups or the downs. It's a pretty satisfying feeling right now."