Commentary

Capuano shaping up as smart move

Updated: February 23, 2014, 2:06 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Whether it will lower the team ERA is to be determined, but the signing of left-handed pitcher Chris Capuano has definitely spiked the IQ of the Red Sox pitching staff.

Finally, Craig Breslow has someone else who speaks his language.

Breslow has a degree in molecular biochemistry and biophysics from Yale.

Capuano said no to Yale. Dartmouth, too. He got his economics degree from Duke, where he had a 3.86 GPA and was Phi Beta Kappa.

[+] EnlargeChris Capuano
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesChris Capuano played long toss after passing his Red Sox physical Saturday.

Breslow debated whether or not to go to medical school. Capuano was recruited by Morgan Stanley.

Breslow has been called the smartest man in baseball. Capuano was valedictorian of his high school class at Cathedral High in Springfield, Mass. You wouldn't be happy to face either of these guys in "Jeopardy!" Or in Yankee Stadium.

More similarities: Both are left-handed and from New England (Breslow is from New Haven, Conn.).

And neither Breslow nor Capuano can be accused of choosing the easier life path. Breslow persevered despite being released by the Brewers while still in Class A. Capuano has endured despite two Tommy John surgeries on his left elbow, the second of which cost him two full seasons in the big leagues, 2008 and 2009.

"The end of 2009, I went to rookie ball in Montana for a few weeks," Capuano said Saturday. "It brought me back to basics, showed me how much I loved the game." And now, he is here, at age 35, pitching for the team he grew up rooting for as a child -- though the fact that Roger Clemens was his boyhood idol didn't prevent Capuano from picking him off first base after the Rocket, then playing for the Houston Astros, had blooped a single.

The Sox didn't take much interest in Capuano when he was in high school, he said, even though he played in a Massachusetts-Connecticut all-star game in Fenway Park. "Got to play left field in front of the Monster, too," he said. That's the only time, by the way, he has ever pitched in the Fens. Last August, in his ninth season in the big leagues -- all spent in the National League -- Capuano faced the Red Sox for the first time ever; he gave up two unearned runs in five innings and took the loss in an 8-1 defeat to Jake Peavy and the Sox.

There's no telling if he would have ever had the chance to pitch in Fenway again if Ryan Dempster hadn't decided to quit, at least for the coming season. The Sox suddenly had a need for a veteran starter, and Capuano, still a free agent as teams were opening camps, was there for the taking. "Strange feeling," he said of being out of a job while others were bound for Arizona and Florida.

There were other teams interested -- Baltimore and Seattle were mentioned -- but Boston signed him to a one-year deal for $2.25 million, with incentives that could make the whole package worth $5 million.

Capuano finds himself in a situation not unlike the one he encountered last spring -- his second with the Dodgers -- when he found himself trying to crack a rotation top heavy in starters. He'd taken a regular turn in the L.A. rotation in 2012, making 33 starts, pitching 198⅓ innings and posting a 3.72 ERA to go along with his 12-12 record. But then, the Dodgers traded for Josh Beckett and signed Korean star Hyun-Jin Ryu and free-agent ace Zack Greinke.

There were eight starters for five spots, and Capuano, a career starter, was in the bullpen, though not for long. Injuries struck quickly, the most costly when Greinke fractured his collarbone in a brawl with the Padres. It was still April, and Capuano was back in the rotation. That lasted one start. Turns out he'd strained his calf muscle in the same brawl, lasted just two innings, in which he gave up five runs, and was placed on the DL.

It was that kind of season. He'd go back on the DL with a strained lat muscle in his shoulder, then miss 20 more games in September with a strained groin. Continuity was out of the question, and so was consistency. FanGraphs.com noted that Capuano made five starts in which he gave up no earned runs and four in which he gave up five earned runs or more. By the time he came back from his groin injury, he was back in the bullpen, from which he made his only postseason appearance.

When the season ended, the Dodgers didn't exercise his option, making him a free agent. "The Dodgers were pretty happy with where they were at with their rotation," he said. "We didn't have any conversations." It would appear that it will take another injury for Capuano to crack the rotation here. The Sox are set with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Peavy and Felix Doubront. He might even be challenged to stick in the bullpen, depending on what the Sox do with Brandon Workman, who pitched so well after his call-up from Pawtucket last summer.

Manager John Farrell began last season with 12 pitchers on his Opening Day roster. Besides the five starters, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Breslow, Edward Mujica and Andrew Miller are assured of spots in the pen. Burke Badenhop was acquired from Milwaukee to be a long-relief man. Former closer Francisco Cordero is back after a season out of the game, trying to win a job. If Capuano is kept as a swingman, Workman figures to begin the season in Pawtucket's rotation.

That's why, Capuano said, he's not in a position to just get ready for the season. He needs to pitch well from the outset if he wants a job. He said he expects to throw his first bullpen Sunday and face live hitters on Thursday.

Capuano is a sinker-slider-changeup pitcher whose velocity has actually risen a tick since his second surgery -- he's at 88-89 mph now, touching 90-91. His wife, Sarah Clifford Capuano, is also a Massachusetts native -- from Grafton. The couple met at Duke, and Clifford competed for a spot on the 2004 Olympic team in the modern pentathlon.

"We've been getting a lot of phone calls, texts and emails," he said. "It's like coming home for us." A smart move? The Sox are counting on it.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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