With Nathan struggling, Twins name Matt Capps new closer

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Twins right-hander Joe Nathan blew his second consecutive save opportunity on Saturday afternoon against the Rays and has looked like a shell of his former self since spring training began.

Only 13 months removed from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, the veteran Nathan simply doesn’t have the arm strength nor the command to handle high pressure situations.

So the Twins made a change on Sunday.

According to Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Minnesota coaching staff has decided to name Matt Capps as the team’s new closer. Nathan will be used in low pressure middle relief situations until he begins showing improvement.

Capps has allowed three earned runs in his last 1.1 innings of work, but he was really sharp in the ninth inning last season for the Nationals and Twins, and he should be able to handle the responsibility here in 2011.

Nathan was the picture of consistency at the back end of the Twins’ bullpen for an entire decade and he should be able to get back to an elite level eventually. But, right now, he’s not fit for the role.

Minnesota is currently sitting at the bottom of the American League Central standings with a 4-10 record.

Jim Hickey steps down as Cubs’ pitching coach

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The Cubs announced on Tuesday that Jim Hickey has stepped down as the pitching coach due to personal reasons. The club will begin a search for a replacement.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said in a statement, “Jim Hickey notified us yesterday of his decision to step down as pitching coach and leave the organization for personal reasons. We thank Jim for his season with the Cubs and his positive impact on our pitchers. Jim has our full support and we all wish him well.”

Hickey, 57, spent over a decade as a coach in the Rays organization before joining the Cubs for the past season, reuniting with Joe Maddon. The Cubs’ starting staff ranked 10th among all 30 teams with a 3.84 ERA and the bullpen posted an NL-best 3.35 ERA.