As Chris Capuano continues to struggle — 15 earned runs in his last 19.1 innings over four starts — to the point where the Dodgers are about to sign the awful Edinson Volquez as either a replacement or a supplement, the question I continue to get is this: why not Stephen Fife and his 2.47 ERA?
Well, because he’s all sorts of messed up, really, and I haven’t really written about it because I thought it was common knowledge. But judging by the amount of times I hear his name come up, perhaps it’s not.
Fife defied most expectations by pitching reasonably well in a few stints for the Dodgers this year, particularly in seven starts between June 3 & July 6 when he had a 30/11 K/BB and 2.20 ERA in 41.0 innings. That came after a single April start that led to shoulder bursitis that put him on the disabled list and opened the door for Matt Magill; Fife then missed nearly another month with the same issue after that July 6 start against the Giants. (You’ll remember that the original plan was for Fife to keep his role and push Capuano to the bullpen after Ricky Nolasco was acquired, though that never came to be once Fife’s shoulder started barking again.)
When he returned on August 4, it was as a sixth starter to provide rest for the rest of the rotation, since Capuano was coming off scoreless outings in three of his previous four starts. Fife pitched 5.1 scoreless innings in Chicago — not that anyone noticed, since that was the day that Hanley Ramirez hurt his shoulder running into the stands. That injury directly led to Fife going back down, since the team needed to recall Dee Gordon but did not want to disable Ramirez.
This is where things started going off the rails, unfortunately. Back in Triple-A, the Dodgers attempted to convert Fife into a reliever, increasing his flexibility while keeping him available as a sixth starter if needed. He allowed ten baserunners with just a single strikeout in 4.1 innings over his first two appearances, which Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy (via Chris Jackson) summarized like this:
“It was a little different scenario pitching out of the pen for the first time,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said. “He wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been in the past. We’ll just chalk it up to basically a new adventure.
“He was really upset with his performance. He knows it wasn’t what he wanted out of it as far as how he pitched. He made a couple mistakes up in the zone.”
Five days later, Fife was back as a starter against Oklahoma City, and it couldn’t have gone worse. He threw 34 pitches, but just 8 for strikes, as he left after having walked five and notching a single out. He at least made it through five the next time out, but then last night only 43 of his 80 pitches went for strikes as he allowed 12 baserunners in 4.1 innings.
Is his shoulder aching again? Did the brief move to the bullpen screw him up? We don’t really know, though Jackson indicates that he seems to be healthy. He’ll still likely get a recall when rosters expand this weekend, but it’s incredibly difficult to count on him right now. As poor as Capuano has been and as terrible as Volquez is, I can’t really say with any degree of confidence that Fife is a more reliable choice given his last month. The only saving grace here, as we’ve said, is that with a 9.5 game lead, the fifth starter shouldn’t matter all that much. Hopefully.