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Versatile Capuano can provide Red Sox with options

With ability to start or come out of the 'pen, lefty could prove to be valuable piece

JUPITER, Fla. -- When Chris Capuano made his Red Sox debut on Wednesday, he did so as a starting pitcher. That might not be the role he holds when the regular season begins, but that's not a big problem for the veteran left-hander, who gave up two runs in two innings during Boston's 8-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.

He's been down this road before.

Just last year, in fact, Capuano's first two appearances with the Dodgers came out of the bullpen. Then, Zack Greinke suffered a fractured collarbone in a benches-clearing incident with the Padres, and Capuano was in the rotation. Although he made two trips to the disabled list himself, his next 20 trips to the mound were starts.

"Every year over the past three or four years, I've had some really great experiences that I kind of think have helped me be flexible and be prepared for that," Capuano said of preparing as a starter this spring even though his future could lie in relief.

Capuano has made 29 total appearances out of the bullpen, spread over five different seasons. A free agent this winter, he signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with Boston on Feb. 22 with the understanding that he might not crack the rotation.

If everyone is healthy, Capuano could be one of three southpaws in the Boston bullpen, along with Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller. Capuano has fared much better against left-handers throughout his career, but it sounds as though manager John Farrell isn't planning to put him in a specialist role.

"He's got the ability to go multiple innings, as we know," Farrell said. "At this point, if we're healthy across the board, I think we have options late in the game. Chris is in that middle range. If we have a starter that needs help early in the game, he's got the ability to bridge to our guys later in the game as well."

Of course, pitching staffs rarely enjoy perfect health. The 2013 Red Sox had 11 different pitchers start a game, and eight of them had at least six such assignments. No Major League club used only five starters, and 22 employed at least 10.

In other words, Capuano is likely to get a chance at some point. It could even come right away, if a finger laceration prevents Jake Peavy from being ready to go initially. But for right now, Capuano isn't worrying about that.

"At least in the immediate term, my focus is on building up my arm strength and making sure I have good command of my pitches, and that really takes all of my focus right now," he said. "A few weeks from now, I'll get that good base and hopefully get up to the five- or six-inning mark, and then we'll see where we go from there. Right now, I'm really focused on trying to get myself right, get myself ready."

Wednesday was a step in that direction for the 35-year-old Springfield, Mass., native, who made his debut with the team he cheered for as a kid. Even though he signed late, Capuano estimated that he threw about eight bullpen sessions in Arizona while he waited, keeping him pretty much on schedule.

Capuano threw 21 strikes out of 37 pitches, deploying all four of his offerings and sitting mostly in the high 80s with his fastball, according to the stadium radar gun. He spent some time working out of the stretch with men on base and got the chance to field his position, starting a nice 1-6-3 double play in the first inning.

"Got a little bit of everything today," he said.

Overall, Capuano allowed two runs on three hits, with one walk and one strikeout. He gave up a pair of soft singles in the first and nearly set the Cardinals down in order in the second before losing Jon Jay to a walk and leaving a two-seamer over the plate to Xavier Scruggs for a two-run homer.

"He's a veteran guy that knows what his capabilities are," Farrell said. "His versatility allows him to pitch in a couple of roles for us. So he's going to be a valuable guy for us, to be able to go multiple innings, if in fact he starts in the bullpen."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Boston Red Sox, Chris Capuano