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Capuano earns NL Player of the Week

Capuano earns NL Player of the Week

MILWAUKEE -- Chris Capuano is proving that his 2005 season was no fluke thanks in large part to a devastating change-up that, it turns out, developed as a bit of a fluke.

The Brewers left-hander was named the National League's Player of the Week on Monday and revealed that he accidentally discovered a new grip on his change-up "three or four starts ago" -- he didn't remember exactly in which game. The pitch has been one of the keys to early-season success for Capuano, who won 18 games for the Brewers a year ago.

Capuano was pitching from the stretch with a runner on base and accidentally gripped his change-up differently than usual.

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"I know I grabbed it kind of funny and said, 'I'm going to throw it anyway,'" Capuano said of the pitch, which dove down and away from a right-handed hitter. "It was like, 'How did I do that? I want to do it again!'"

And again, and again, and again. He surrendered a total of one earned run and one walk in 17 innings over his last two starts to win the award. On Sunday, he tossed his first career shutout, a five-hitter against the Cubs.

"I have better feel for my pitches than I ever have," Capuano said. "I have a good sinker working, which is something I haven't had in the past, and my change-up has been a lot more consistent. In the past that's been a good pitch for me, but it's been unpredictable in which way it was going to break. I have the new grip now and I know what it's going to do now every time."

The Brewers began last week two games behind the Cubs and 4 1/2 games behind the Astros, the National League Central leaders. One week later, behind two wins by Capuano, the Brewers were in a tie with the Cubs at three games behind Cincinnati, having won six of their last seven.

Although Capuano's two starts last week were impressive, they have been consistent with his entire 2006 season. In his six starts, Capuano has gone at least six innings each time, and has not given up more than three earned runs on any outing. Overall, he has struck out 40 batters while walking nine.

The 40 strikeouts were good for a tie with Boston's Curt Schilling atop the Major League leaderboard. Capuano doesn't expect that to last.

"Look at Benny's [Sheets] numbers. He's got 25 strikeouts in 18 innings so it won't be long before he catches me," Capuano said. "I'm enjoying it while it lasts, because I know that the true strikeout pitchers in the league are going to pass me up. I don't think it's conducive to be having success to try to strike people out. I'm better off trying to get them to put the ball in play early and getting deep into games."

Capuano's earned run average dropped from 3.46 to 3.00 with a three-hit, six-strikeout effort against the Braves in a 3-2 win on April 24, and lowered it further to 2.36 with his shutout against the Cubs. The 27-year-old struck out six and did not walk a batter in the 9-0 win over Chicago at Wrigley Field. He retired 14 of the last 17 batters he faced.

"He works at his game constantly," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "He's improved his change-up from last year to this year, his fastball has picked up a little bit, his command has been as good as I've ever seen it in a good amount of time. ... If he continues what he's doing now, he moves into the [Tom] Glavine-type of status. I'm telling you, he's made that kind of an adjustment."

As a bonus for winning the award, Capuano will get a Tourneau luxury Swiss watch.

"I think it's pretty cool," Capuano said. "I guess you get a plaque, too. It's pretty special."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Amanda Branam is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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