Dodgers find unlikely ace in Capuano

Chris Capuano improved his record to 5-0 and shaved his ERA to 2.06 after winning Friday. Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- This wasn't supposed to happen.

The Los Angeles Dodgers didn't sign Chris Capuano to be their ace. They already had one of those. They didn't sign the veteran lefty to that two-year, $10 million contract last winter, really, to be anything other than their fifth starter, a reclamation project who was just finding his footing again following Tommy John surgery almost exactly four years ago.

And yet, here Capuano was on Friday night, pitching the still-surging Dodgers to a 7-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 35,591 at Dodger Stadium, running his record to 5-0 and shaving his ERA to 2.06 -- less than half the career mark of 4.39 he brought into the season, his first with the Dodgers.

Who would have predicted last winter that the Dodgers would be 21-11 and leading the National League West by six games? And who would have predicted that Capuano and Ted Lilly would be the anchors of the starting rotation, the two of them a combined 9-0?

It isn't that Clayton Kershaw hasn't looked the part of the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. It's just that Capuano and Lilly have been even better. Capuano, to hear him tell it, is better than he ever has been.

"I feel great,'' he said. "Physically, I'm as good as I ever have been. It's great to just worry about making pitches and not have to worry about anything physical.''

Capuano, 33, has never been an overpowering pitcher, relying instead on guile and deception. To that end, the Tommy John surgery hasn't changed him much. Since then, though, he has added a couple more pitches to what already was an extensive repertoire, and an impressive one according to some longtime observers.

"I always liked this guy,'' said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, a longtime hitting coach before taking over the club last year. "He is a tough guy to (advance) scout. He has so many different pitches, and he is tough to prepare for because you never know what you're going to get. He has been great for us.''

Over the past two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets, as Capuano endured the usual struggles of coming back from Tommy John, he was essentially a .500 pitcher with a 4-something ERA. This year, he has been absolutely dominating. Not overpowering, mind you, just dominating. And that is a lot more than the Dodgers thought they were getting.

"(The surgery) isn't a thought for me now,'' he said. "I do my preparation every day. I feel like my arm is strong, and I don't even think about it anymore.''

NOTES: The Dodgers have signed free-agent infielder Aaron Miles to a minor league contract. Miles played in 146 games for the Dodgers last season, batting .275 and becoming one of their more valuable players, before entering free agency in the fall. But strangely, Miles never received an offer, at least not one he accepted, and he remained on the open market until Friday.

Because he hasn't had a spring training, Miles was sent to extended spring training in Glendale, Ariz., where he will work out indefinitely before either being added to the big league club or assigned to a minor league affiliate. It would seem a veritable certainty, however, that Miles will be with the big league club at some point.

Veteran reliever Mike MacDougal, who was designated for assignment on May 3, has cleared waivers and rejected an outright assignment to the minors. The Dodgers thusly have requested unconditional release waivers on him, meaning MacDougal's time with the club is over.