Padres reliever Capps recovery with callup

Righty makes San Diego debut following rehab from Tommy John surgery

Padres reliever Capps recovery with callup

CINCINNATI -- More than a year after joining the Padres -- and more than two years since he last pitched in the Majors -- Carter Capps returned to a big league mound Monday night.

The results weren't pretty; he allowed three runs in 2/3 of an inning. But the hurdle he cleared was far more significant than the eighth frame of the Padres' 11-3 loss to Cincinnati.

The hard-throwing right-hander was recalled before Monday's game in Cincinnati, with lefty Buddy Baumann optioned to Triple-A El Paso. Prior to that, Capps hadn't pitched since Aug. 2, 2015, when he exited an outing against the Padres with elbow trouble. Then with the Marlins, Capps underwent Tommy John surgery the ensuing offseason. He was dealt to San Diego at the 2016 non-waiver Trade Deadline in a move that sent Andrew Cashner to Miami.

"It definitely feels like it's been a long road, a lot of ups and downs," Capps said before the game. "It was more of a roller coaster than I would like, but I'm definitely excited."

Capps entered in the eighth inning and retired two of the first three hitters he faced before losing his command and walking a pair. With Capps sitting at 28 pitches -- only 13 for strikes -- manager Andy Green opted for Phil Maton instead. The move backfired, as Maton's first pitch to Patrick Kivlehan landed in the right-center-field seats for a grand slam.

"He started off strong," Green said of Capps. "He hasn't gone anywhere beyond that pitch count where we took him out in Triple-A, so there was a little bit of hesitation. … You don't want to put him in harm's way. You hate that he has to leave the game."

Perhaps best known for the quirky hop-step in his delivery, Capps had a particularly tough time regaining his mechanics in the Minors, given all the moving parts in his pitching motion.

"Any time you've got a herky-jerky motion or a lot of moving parts ... it's not just me, anybody is going to take longer to get back to where they're in their normal position with [the right] timing," Capps said.

That motion also came under some scrutiny during Spring Training, when Major League Baseball instituted a rule specifying that a pitcher cannot reset his pivot foot or make two distinct movements toward home plate.

Capps tinkered with his delivery, and his hop-step is no longer quite so pronounced. The Padres are confident it's well within the constricts of the new rule. For the most part, Minor League umpires agreed, save for one game in which Capps was called for two illegal pitches.

"I'm sure people are going to watch him closely," said Green. "Where we had had an issue in the past was when he would disengage the ground. That's not happening when I watch film right now. He drags his foot down the slope, still gets further down the slope than most guys do."

The mechanical tweaks weren't so much a response to the rule change as a need for him to simplify things. Upon his return to Triple-A El Paso, Capps struggled and had his first rehab stint shut down April 30. His ERA sat at 9.00.

He went to the team's Spring Training complex in Peoria, Ariz., where he strived to hone those mechanics. After a month there, he returned to El Paso with a noticeably more compact delivery -- and a less pronounced step forward.

Capps lowered his Triple-A ERA to 2.81, and he held his opponents scoreless in 17 of his past 18 appearances. In essence, Capps has been much closer to his dominance of 2015, when he allowed just five runs and struck out 58 hitters in 31 big league innings with Miami.

"Toward the latter part of [the rehab], it was definitely more about consistency with the mechanics," Capps said. "Early on, it was definitely about getting the arm strength and getting the ball feeling like it was coming out good."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.