BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -Star relievers Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera know they will pitch three a times a week or more. They go to the ballpark each night expecting to be handed the ball, and quite often are.
A closer like Matt Capps, who pitches for a Pittsburgh Pirates team that has lost at least 94 games since he broke into the majors in 2005? He may find himself closing only a single time during some long and lonely weeks.
``Physically, that's the easy part. I can do things on the side and you can get extra running in,'' Capps said. ``Staying up on it mentally and not letting your guard down is the toughest part.''
Last season, the right-handed Capps was 4-7 with a 2.28 ERA and 18 saves in 20 chances despite not moving into the closer's role until June 1. He had one stretch of eight days without pitching, two more of six days and four of five days, a lot of idle time in a profession in which consistency is often dictated by staying fine-tuned.
When he's not pitching, Capps studies closers like Hoffman and Billy Wagner - not only how they take on hitters, but what they do between appearances.
``You watch how they go about their business, you watch how they warm up, how they prepare, and you watch how they attack hitters and what their approach is out on the mound,'' Capps said. ``You don't see too many guys that are successful in that role who don't attack hitters. You watch them go right after guys and try to apply that. Every time I get on the mound, I try to go after each hitter, trying to get strike one and go from there.''
That very approach is how Capps ended up with his job a year ago.
A seventh-round pick in 2002, Capps was tried as a middle reliever and a starter during three minor league seasons before he became a closer in 2005. He had only one save in his first 129 major league appearances before Salomon Torres' repeated blown saves led former manager Jim Tracy to finally make Capps his closer.
Capps throws his fastball consistently in the 95-mph range and can occasionally throw a bit faster. What stands out is his control; he had more saves (18) than walks (16) in 79 innings last season and has only 28 walks in 165 career games.
In 2006, he was 9-1 and walked only 12 in 80 2-3 innings while pitching in a club rookie-record 85 games. He pitched in 76 games last season, but a remarkable 56 appearances were in non-save situations.
``It's like anything (with good pitching), you have to control inside the strike zone, pick the corners, keep the ball down, elevate for purpose,'' Capps said. ``Locating is probably more important than anything.''
His consistency led Red Sox senior baseball operations adviser Bill James to rank Capps as the majors' 36th best young talent in his annual handbook. Capps is rated ahead of players like fellow relievers Bobby Jenks and Manny Corpas and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.
James' evaluation illustrates why the 24-year-old Capps looks to be a strength on a Pirates team that continues to search for an identity, some top-to-bottom consistency and its first winning season since 1992.
``You can tell he loves the job,'' Pirates manager John Russell said. ``He's a fierce competitor, he loves being out there when the game is on the line and that's what you like to see.''
That means being consistent after not pitching well, too.
``You've got to have a short memory,'' Capps said.

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