Capuano counting his blessings

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- How excited are folks back home that Chris Capuano has come home to pitch for the Red Sox?

The package arrived this week, stuffed with about 50 handmade cards, including one with a terrific sketch of Capuano in mid-delivery. These were not just computer printouts. These were made of colorful construction paper, all personally designed, filled with messages of encouragement and support.

Kids still make these things?

"Good Catholic school education,'' Capuano said with a smile.

The package had been sent from St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Springfield, Mass., where the principal, Sister Patty Hottin, had gone to high school with Capuano's parents, Kathy and Frank. Capuano attended St. Thomas from kindergarten through the eighth grade before going on to Cathedral High in Springfield, where he was valedictorian of his class, then Duke, where he was Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in economics.

It was Sister Patty who had gone on the PA last month and announced to the school that Capuano, a free agent, had signed with the Red Sox. And it was Karen McHugh's sixth-grade class (with a few fifth-graders also pitching in) who decided they couldn't wait for the Sox to return north, they were going to reach out to him here.

Joey Franco's drawing was the one that showed Capuano pitching.

"The kids here feel like he's their rock star,'' Sister Patty said. "They know he went to school here and that if he can do it, they can do it. We're really psyched. We've known him for a long time, but this is coming home.

"I think he's going to do great things, and I'll tell you why. He's got all these kids who believe that what they ask in prayer happens, and they're doing a lot of praying.''

Hey, sixth-graders at St. Thomas: As happy as you are that Capuano is here, the 35-year-old left-hander is just as happy that in his 12th season in the big leagues -- a journey that has taken him through five teams, two Tommy John elbow surgeries that kept him from pitching nearly two full seasons, and one playoff appearance -- he'll be pitching for his hometown team.

Spring training had already started and Capuano, who had spent the previous two seasons with the Dodgers, was still without a team when the Red Sox signed him Feb. 22, after Ryan Dempster abruptly decided he would not pitch in 2014. A starter his entire career, Capuano was viewed as rotation depth, and a third left-handed arm out of the bullpen, joining Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller.

With all the pitching injuries occurring this spring, Capuano might have found regular work as a starter elsewhere had he waited longer. But ask him if he has any second thoughts, and he shakes his head.

"Not at all,'' he said. "This is a fantastic place to be.

"The guys on the team, there are no egos in this clubhouse. These guys are awesome to play with, just professional, good guys. Their training staff, physical therapy staff, are the best I've ever been around. Judging by my one month so far with the team, I feel great about this spot and really loving it here.''

The Red Sox used 26 pitchers last season, 11 of whom made starts. The odds of Capuano, who has pitched out of the pen just 29 times compared with 209 career starts, being pressed into service as a starter by the Sox at some point this season are very high.

"Not too many teams make it through the whole year with five guys,'' he said. "I'm certainly not wishing anybody ill. I want all these guys to be successful, because that means we're successful as a team. But if I do get a chance, I'm ready for it. I'll try to embrace any role I'm in at the start of the season, try to be successful at it, try to put zeroes up.''

Capuano's last outing came Wednesday, in a start for Class A Greenville. Zeroes? He pitched five innings of no-hit ball, striking out 10.

But with all five Sox starters healthy on the cusp of the regular season, Capuano will be part of a bullpen that blows away the competition in brain power. Craig Breslow earned a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale. Burke Badenhop, like Capuano, has a degree in economics; Badenhop graduated magna cum laude. And Andrew Miller was well on his way to a degree at the University of North Carolina until he was drafted in the first round by the Tigers.

"It makes for some fun conversations, that's for sure,'' Capuano said. "Good debates. We talk about all kinds of stuff. That Malcolm Gladwell book, 'Outliers,' we were talking about that yesterday. We also were analyzing everyone's birthdays, if it makes a difference what month you were born in.

"I'm also trying to learn to play guitar. Jon Lester has been teaching me a couple of cowboy chords, basic chords that you can play a lot of songs with.''

There used to be a day when reading a book at your locker marked you as odd at a big league clubhouse. It's not that way now, Capuano said.

"At the same time, you don't see too many people sitting reading a book at their locker,'' he said. "But we have plenty of time for that on the road and at home.

"There used to be a thing that if you're too smart, it's not good for you, you're overthinking. But to define smart by level of education is not necessarily the best barometer. There are such things as common sense, street smarts, baseball smarts. You look at some of these guys who didn't go to college, they have their Ph.D. in baseball, pro ball right out the gate. You can't look down on that type of intelligence.''

Last season, Capuano was limited to 20 starts by what he described as "three kinds of stupid, little injuries.'' He injured his calf in the Greinke brawl against the Padres and had to come out of his next start; he strained a lat muscle diving for a ball and he had a "little naggy groin thing.''

This spring, he experienced a little back tightness and forearm stiffness, which is how he came to appreciate the Sox medical staff so quickly. Those issues are gone, he said.

"In my last three outings, I felt really good throwing the ball,'' he said. "I'm really excited to start the year.''

That should come as no surprise to the kids at St. Thomas. Answered prayers, anyone?