It took Chris Capuano, a native of Springfield and graduate of Our Lady of Hope Cathedral High, nine big league seasons and 239 games before he got a chance to pitch in Fenway Park. He finally did so Saturday night, throwing two scoreless innings in the Red Sox’ 11-inning loss to the Brewers.
“It was special,” said the 35-year-old lefthander. “Just warming up in that bullpen [near] where I’ve watched a lot of games growing up and then running out on the field, I took some time to look around and take it all in. But once you stand on the mound and you look in and you see that catcher there, everything else kind of fades away and then you’re just doing what you know how to do.
“You take it in and then you just say to yourself, ‘OK, attack the glove one pitch at a time.’ ”
He did that, striking out four of the eight batters he faced in that outing. For Capuano, who entering Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers had started 209 of his 241 appearances, it was a career-high in strikeouts working out of the bullpen. In three scoreless appearances this season, spanning four innings, he had allowed three hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. Dating to last season with the Dodgers, he had not allowed a run in his last 10⅔ innings, spanning seven appearances, since Aug. 31.
Working out of the bullpen has been a bit of an adjustment for Capuano. Before this season, 15 of his 29 relief outings came in 2010 following his return from Tommy John surgery while with the Brewers.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I’ve been just relying on the other guys in terms of figuring out a good routine that allows you to get your work in every day but still be sharp and available. It’s a learning process, but other players and our staff have been great helping out.”
It’s a mental adjustment as much as physical.
“Definitely,” he said. “It’s a lot different than gearing up for a game every five days. Trying to control that energy level, control that focus. So you don’t waste it early. It’s a lot of breathing, a lot of focus, that kind of stuff.”
Capuano entered in the eighth inning of Monday night’s game against the Rangers, with the Sox leading by a run, to face the top of Texas’ lineup — with lefthanded hitters Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder sandwiching righty Elvis Andrus. Capuano needed 18 pitches to record another scoreless inning.
“It probably goes back to his veteran status,” said manager John Farrell of Capuano’s transition. “He knows what work is needed to get ready to come into a game when he’s not starting.
“He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think we saw in getting to know him in spring training, he reads swings very well, his pitch selection has been pretty spot-on in terms of disrupting hitters’ timing, and he’s not just a multi-inning guy, evident by matching up [Monday] night in the eighth inning.”
Capuano joined the Sox as a free agent Feb. 22, his first foray into the American League, since he was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the eighth round in 1999 out of Duke.
He made four spring training appearances, with one start, spanning 11 innings, plus a minor league appearance, working on what was essentially a starting pitcher’s schedule.
Farrell said he could see using Capuano in other matchup situations.
“Yeah, in an inning, it’s not necessarily that late in a game,” Farrell said.
“I just felt like with other matchups that were available to us, there’s been some guys in that lineup that have handled [righthander Junichi Tazawa] a little bit, and the fact that where Choo is slowed down somewhat against the lefthander, I thought the matchup was right with him last night. But [Capuano] gives us a lot of versatility from multiple innings to being able to match up.”
Capuano believes, if called upon, he could make a start for the Red Sox, despite now being on a reliever’s schedule. While Farrell has said after two weeks on a reliever’s schedule, “you’ve got to begin to be realistic on what you can expect from them if they’re pressed into a start,” Capuano thinks he has a little more leeway, if needed.
“After about a month or so, if the need for another starter should arise, I’d be able to do that but I’d probably be limited to about 85, 90 pitches max,” he said, “which, if you’re real efficient, hopefully you can get through six innings. You don’t really loose that arm strength that you’ve built up. But when you do step into that starting role again, you have to be kind of limited that first or second time out before you can get your pitch count up to the 100-, 110-level that you kind of usually need.”