He was one of the last additions to the roster in the offseason, and there wasn't a whole lot of attention paid to his signing. Chris Capuano was brought aboard only after Ryan Dempster announced his intentions to sit out the 2014 season, and the Red Sox decided they could afford to bring in another veteran pitcher to serve as rotation depth. Some viewed the move as fine but unnecessary, since the team already had Brandon Workman available to serve this role, while others viewed it as a possible mistake. They weren't sure the veteran left-hander would be a good fit in the AL East. It's only April 15th, so it's too early to pass judgment on any offseason moves, but there are at least some early returns to be excited about when it comes to Capuano.
So far this season, the 35-year-old has offered up 19 outs in five games, and has looked quite good in that short time. He has struck out five batters thus far, has yet to issue a walk, and has given up just four singles and not a single extra-base hit. His ERA still sits at 0.00.
The sample is obviously tiny, but the past couple of years support the notion that Capuano is a solid pitcher. He spent 2012 and 2013 with the Dodgers, and showed good control with solid strikeout numbers, and served as a solidly average pitcher in that time. In fact, over his career, he has been just a shade below average, with a 104 ERA- and 103 FIP-. It's not going to make any headlines, but it's fine as a back-of-the-rotation arm, and even better as a sixth starter who can also come out of the bullpen.
The coming out of the bullpen part is what has been most impressive for Capuano so far, as he has proven to be a versatile and potentially valuable piece moving forward this season. When he was signed, it was assumed he would serve mostly as a long man, coming in after the starter failed to last longer than four or five innings. With back-of-the-bullpen arms like Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, and even Andrew Miller and Burke Badenhop, there didn't seem like much of a need for Capuano to do more than mop-up duty. However, he has proven that he can do much more than that. So far, he has recorded more than three outs in two of his five outings, providing as many as six just once. Those are not the outings of a long-man. Instead, he has come in for higher-leverage situations than many expected, being brought into the seventh or eighth inning in four of his five appearances. It's still very early, but John Farrell has shown a willingness - maybe even a preference - to go to Capuano late in the game if a string of lefties is coming up. Considering that lefties have hit .226/.286/.329 off him in his career, it's a smart move.
Since bullpens tend to be such a volatile group, being able to trust as many guys with high-leverage spots as possible is hugely valuable. At the start of the year, Capuano seemed like the last arm who would be called upon at the end of games, as his starter-depth role seemed rigidly defined. Farrell, however, saw something in his stuff that suggested he could be more, and it has paid off. We've seen Craig Breslow start the year on the disabled list, and Uehara has already given us a scare. Injuries obviously happen in the backs of bullpens, and you don't need to look farther than last year to see that. On top of that, the development of Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and even Henry Owens could demand that they see some major-league starts this year too. That would be a more difficult task if Capuano was rigidly set into the sixth-starter/long-reliever role. Not only is Farrell giving himself more options late in games, but he is also setting himself up for more flexibility in the future if it comes to that.
We are only two weeks in to the season, and a couple bad outings from Capuano could obviously change things pretty drastically. For now, though, the Red Sox have to be extremely happy with what they've seen from their veteran acquisition, who has expanded his role already. He's still most valuable as a sixth starter, but making himself available as a late-inning reliever who can shut down lefties certainly hurt either, especially with the possible emergence of the arms on the farm. Presently, on April 15th, Chris Capuano can't be seen as anything but solid, and his emerging versatility is certainly something to watch for in the coming weeks and months.