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After surviving Tommy John twice, Chris Capuano excited about ‘coming home’ to Red Sox

02.22.14 at 3:55 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — For someone who has survived two Tommy John surgeries and the disappointment of being passed over by his hometown team in high school, lefty Chris Capuano finally got to put on a Red Sox uniform Saturday and talk about the real chance he’ll be on the club to start the 2014 season.

“I just hope to be a positive part of the clubhouse,” Capuano said. “It’s already great clubhouse dynamic with the kind of professionals they have in there. These guys, the way they go about their business and they’re so focused. I just want to add to that and hopefully be a positive part.”

Capuano starred both athletically and academically at Cathedral High School in West Springfield, where he was the valedictorian. He played in high school all-star game at Fenway but that remains the only time he has ever pitched on the hallowed ground.

“I played in this Massachusetts-Connecticut all-star game at Fenway,” he recalled Saturday. “I thought I did well. I ended up getting drafted by the Pirates in the late rounds out of high school but not enough to not make me want to go to Duke and get my education. I didn’t have a lot of contact with the Red Sox out of high school.”

Capuano, 35, signed a major league deal this week for a reported $2.25 million, with incentives that could make it worth as much as $5 million. John Farrell sees Capuano as a lefty who could throw an inning out of the bullpen in long relief or face a single batter, lefty or righty.

“I think with my repertoire, four-seam, two-seam fastballs, my changeup is one of my better offspeed pitches, which has a little down and a away movement to righties,” Capuano said. “I think as a lefty that enables me to feel comfortable to pitch to righthanders as well.”

Capuano was a free agent after the Dodgers chose not to bring him back. But he left no doubt Saturday in speaking to reporters where his first choice would be.

“It definitely plays a part in it. That, and the fact Boston has a great history. It’s a storied organization. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that as a player?”

His wife is from Central Massachusetts, near Worcester and this is indeed a homecoming for the man who figures to start in the Red Sox bullpen as one of three lefties.

“Yeah, we’ve been getting a lot of phones, a lot of texts and emails. There just so much so support back home, all of wife’s family is from Grafton, Mass., outside of Worcester. It really is going to be like coming home for us.”

Capuano wouldn’t even be getting this chance if six days ago Ryan Dempster didn’t step away from $13 million.

“No doubt about it,” Capuano said. “I think I would’ve probably signed by now. It seems like an unfortunate situation and he’s kind of an irreplaceable guy in this clubhouse, just knowing his personality and the kind of lightness he brings to clubhouse and the group. You’re not trying to replace a guy like that but grateful for the opportunity.”

Capuano also considers himself lucky after surviving not one but two Tommy John ligament replacement surgeries on his left elbow.

“The first one, when I was a 23-year-old kid, it wasn’t a big deal,” Capuano said. “I was back in 10 months pitching in games, 11 months full speed. And a year to the day that I got hurt, I was in Triple-A, I got called up to the big leagues. So it really went by fast. It was a tough, tough experience but the second one was six years later. It took me a lot longer to come back. It took me more like 18 months to get back. I had to come to terms with the fact that I might not make it back. That was a real perspective type of experience for me because at the end of 2009 I actually went up to our rookie ball affiliate in Montana and pitched there for a few weeks. It really brought me back to the basics and it showed me for myself that I really love the game and really love to play it. I’ve had a little bit of a different attitude since then.

“I think it’s actually made me better,” he added. “I had the good fortune to work with Rick Peterson in Milwaukee, coming back from the second elbow surgery. He cleaned up my mechanics a lot, got me a on a little bit of a different long toss program. And actually my velocity has increased little by little over the last three years. We’re not talking a lot. We’re talking about going from 88 to 89. So now I’ll sit around 89 miles an hour, touching 91, 92 when I’m really letting it go. Velocity and stuff-wise, I feel as good as I have at any point in my career. I had a chance to really learn from some really great pitchers last year, with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. I’ve learned a breaking ball that’s helped my out in my repertoire and just trying to take advantage of every experience I get and trying to do the same here.”

Here’s more from Capuano on Saturday:

  • On his transition to bullpen: “It’s been OK. Last year, we were in a situation with the Dodgers where we eight good starting pitchers coming out of spring training. It wasn’t long before I got a chance to start there. Once you sign for a team and you’re there, you do what the manager asks you to and you do it to the best of your ability. I’m ready to just contribute in any way I can.”
  • On being a lefty at Fenway: “I’m excited. It’s one of the only stadiums I haven’t pitched in yet. I’m glad in spring training here there’s a replica so I’ll kind of get used to it.”
  • On growing up a Red Sox fan: “I did. I was eight years old in ’86 when they lost to the Mets. I can remember being devastated as a kid. I grew up watching the Sox and really following them. When I was out in the backyard playing whiffle ball with my friends we were always imagining ourselves on the mound at Fenway so it’s kind of cool to come back and maybe have a chance to be there.”
  • On his idols growing up: “Roger Clemens was the man, The Rocket. He was the guy I really watched. I also watched a lot of Braves games, being in Springfield, they were always on TBS so I watched a lot of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, those guys as well.”
  • On longtime Springfield Republican Red Sox beat writer Ron Chemils: “Ron Chemelis is a good friend of mine. We go way back. It might have had a small fraction, maybe a half of one percent.
  • On September 2011, when the Red Sox nearly traded for him in the last week for a Game 163 that never happened: “It was an exciting possibility. I wasn’t far removed from having my second Tommy John [surgery] in 2008 and missed all of ’08 and all of ’09 and got back for a full season in 2010 but it wasn’t until 2011 with the Mets that really got back and I started 30-plus games and got 190 innings where I felt I was all the way back. It felt like I had come a long way in those two years to have a chance to be in that conversation. Mentally, I think our manager with the Mets, they actually knew about it earlier but waited until the last moment to tell me so it wouldn’t be a distraction. I was still pitching for the Mets. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about it. It was just a couple-day conversation. It didn’t end up happening. I was excited about the prospect of playing for the Red Sox.”
  • Any thought of retiring this spring? “No. That’s news to me. I never heard that.”

    “I think the Dodgers were pretty happy where they were at in their rotation. We really didn’t have any conversations about bringing me back there.”

  • On Red Sox plans for him in first week: “I had a conversation with Juan today about the next 10 days of throwing for me. That’s going to involve a couple of bullpen sessions and a live batting practice session on Thursday before I’ll be in my first game. I’ll believe I’ll be starting that game. The sense I get is they’re going to want to extend me and build up my innings a little bit to go either way.”
  • On preparing as a reliever from game-to-game: “It’s a different animal. You have to be ready to go every day. You have to monitor your throwing a little bit. You can’t get the full bullpen sides you would as a starter. The first year I came back from Tommy John in 2010, Trevor Hoffman was with us [in Milwaukee] in the bullpen. I had a chance to really watch how a real professional went about it and I think that really taught me how to prepare for that role.”
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