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Updated: March 27th, 2012 4:31pm
Notebook: Looking for more groundballs, Matt Capps adds a splitter

Notebook: Looking for more groundballs, Matt Capps adds a splitter

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In 2011, Minnesota Twins closer Matt Capps saw his strikeout total plummet below five K's per nine innings while his ERA ballooned above 4.20.

Not acceptable numbers for a closer.

On top of that, Capps induced far fewer groundballs -- from 50% in 2010 to 42% in 2011 -- which led to 10 home runs allowed.

Part of Capps' struggles may have had something to do with over-usage early in the season, combined with some forearm discomfort. But those issues are now behind him.

This spring, the right-hander has added a split-fingered fastball to his repertoire in an effort to induce more grounders.

"That thing's diving down pretty good," manager Ron Gardenhire of Capps, who lowered his spring ERA to 3.38 with a scoreless inning (one grounder, two flies) against the Orioles in Sarasota on Tuesday. "He's been throwing an awful lot of those, which is a good thing. That's an out-pitch for him. It can be a really good out-pitch. You're going to see a lot of groundballs. I like that with him. ...

"If he masters that it's going to be good."

Capps, Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson felt the right-hander needed a pitch that goes dove down in the zone more, aside from the fastball-slider-changeup combination he usually throws.

According to Pitch F/X graphs, Capps' average career fastball hovers around 93 mph with less downward movement than the league-average pitcher. In fact, the Twins' entire staff last season lacked pitchers with downward movement, which is likely why they ranked near the bottom of the league in groundballs induced.

The decision for Capps to add the splitter, Gardenhire said, was a mutual one.

"He was talking about maybe (adding) a splitter or something that's harder than a changeup, to go off of that fastball, slider," Gardenhire said. "A splitter is a groundball thing, and that's what he does. That's what he does best. It's a good pitch. I like it. I like the fact that it tumbles down and it's got the same motion as his fastball. He didn't change anything. I think that's important for a closer."

Bashore, Pearce among minor league cuts

The Twins announced a few notable minor league cuts on Tuesday, including 2009 first-round sandwich pick Matt Bashore -- a left-hander who has pitched only 18 2/3 innings for the Twins due in large part to Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2010 season.

Shortstop Chris Cates, infielder Steve Pearce, outfielder Dustin Martin, and right-hander Ben Tootle were also released. The Twins brought Pearce into camp hoping to rekindle his power stroke from the Pirates organization, but that fizzled quickly. Tootle was a third-round pick in 2009 who owns a career 6.79 minor-league ERA in 54 1/3 innings.

The Star Tribune reported right-hander Jason Bulger was also released.

Revere's arm won't be deciding factor

Playing left field on Tuesday in place of Josh Willingham (sprained ankle), Ben Revere went 1-for-4 with a run. Revere will battle for playing time in right field once the regular season begins, assuming he earns a spot on the 25-man roster.

On Monday, general manager Terry Ryan elaborated on how Revere's weak throwing arm may or may not impact his standing on the roster.

"It's not an ideal right field arm," Ryan said. "But it's not an ideal left field arm either. ...

"I like Ben. I like Benny a lot. His arm strength is not going to hold him from making this ball club. Don't worry about that. He's got other attributes that he provides for this club besides worrying about his arm so much. There's a lot of guys in the major leagues that had pretty good careers that don't necessarily throw well."

Today's result

Twins 5, Orioles 0 in Sarasota

Twins' spring record: 14-12

• Twins pitchers combined to throw a one-hitter, striking out four and walking three. An eighth-inning single off Glen Perkins was the only damage.

• Right-hander Anthony Swarzak solidified his spot on the 25-man roster by pitching 3 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings. He struck out three and walked three, and Twins' brass expect him to be one of their most versatile relievers this season. Swarzak could wind up getting a start if Jason Marquis and/or Scott Baker aren't ready for the start of the regular season.

Justin Morneau went 1-for-4 with an RBI single. Jamey Carroll went 1-for-3 with a two-RBI double and a walk.

• Perkins, Capps and Jared Burton all threw scoreless innings. Jeff Gray threw 2 1/3 scoreless frames.

Health report

• OF Trevor Plouffe is expected to play in a minor league game on Wednesday to test out his strained hamstring.

• RHP Scott Baker's next scheduled start will come Saturday. It's unlikely Baker will pitch in a regular season game until April 15, unless the Twins shuffle their starting rotation.

Numbers game

4: Players sent packing as part of another round of cuts on Tuesday morning, including Joe Benson.

93: Walks drawn by Twins hitters this spring, which ties them atop with the Tigers.

On deck

Wednesday: vs. Phillies, 12:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano vs. TBD
Thursday: @ Pirates, 12:05 p.m. TBA vs. TBA

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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