Capuano has rocky -- but happy -- return

Capuano has rocky -- but happy -- return

MIAMI -- Give Brewers left-hander Chris Capuano credit for enduring his second career Tommy John surgery, two years of grueling rehabilitation and a handful of setbacks to make it all the way back to a Major League mound on Thursday night.

Give Josh Johnson and the Marlins credit for spoiling Capuano's long-awaited return.

Florida knocked Capuano out of the game before the end of the fourth inning, and rode Johnson's pitching gem to a 3-2 win over the Brewers in the finale of a four-game series at Sun Life Stadium. Capuano's first big league outing since Sept. 28, 2007, was unfortunately similar to the 22 before it, all Brewers losses.

"Probably the best thing is it's behind me," Capuano (0-1) said. "I was excited to get out there, had some nerves. It's been a long road to get back out there."

Rickie Weeks put the Brewers on the board against Johnson (6-2) with a seventh-inning sacrifice fly, and Ryan Braun capped a nine-pitch at-bat in the ninth with an RBI single off Marlins closer Leo Nunez that made it a one-run game. But Nunez retired Prince Fielder -- who had reached in each of his first four plate appearances -- on a flyout and struck out Corey Hart for his 12th save.

Johnson allowed only one run on seven hits in seven innings and notched eight strikeouts in his first start since Saturday, when he fell victim to Roy Halladay's perfect game.

Before Weeks' RBI, Johnson had pitched 31 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

"He's tough," Capuano said. "You knew it was going to be a low-scoring game. He's a power guy, attacking the strike zone pretty good. I thought our hitters did a great job of battling him toward the end and getting into some scoring opportunities. We had a couple of chances there to tie the game or go ahead."

Neither team did much with its scoring opportunities. The Brewers were 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded two runners in five different innings, including each of the last four. They also had two runners on base against Johnson in the second inning for shortstop Alcides Escobar, who had grounded into one double play all season before Thursday. Escobar picked a poor time for his second, rocketing a grounder to shortstop for an inning-ending double play that stranded Fielder at third base.

The Marlins didn't do much better. They were 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, including RBI hits by Ronny Paulino in the second inning and Dan Uggla and Paulino in the fourth.

Capuano was charged with three runs on seven hits -- four of them doubles, and three of those hard hit -- in 3 2/3 innings and exited with the bases loaded in the fourth. Kameron Loe, called up from Triple-A Nashville earlier in the week, struck out Gaby Sanchez to spare Capuano further damage and keep the Brewers within striking distance of Johnson at 3-0.

"I felt good, but I definitely had some nerves," Capuano said. "Some of my pitches, I was having trouble getting them down near the end. I was disappointed I couldn't make better pitches there at the end, but it was good to be out there."

He corralled those nerves. Capuano struck out Marlins leadoff man Chris Coghlan on three pitches to start the game.

"From the get-go, I was on the attack," Capuano said.

Simply making it back to the Majors was something of an achievement for Capuano, who joined a very short list of two-time subjects of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction to do so. One of them was former Brewer Chad Fox, who had three so-called Tommy John surgeries, but Fox was a reliever.

Johnson knows how difficult Capuano's road has been. Johnson underwent the surgery in 2007 and missed about a year.

"It's been a long road for him, but I wish him the best," Johnson said. "I remember watching him before he had surgery, and he was nasty. I hope he can get it back."

Capuano has had an admirer all along in manager Ken Macha, who got his first look at Capuano on the mound during Spring Training. Before a March setback, Capuano was actually under brief consideration for a spot in the Brewers' bullpen.

"I had a friend of mine go through [elbow surgery] when I was playing and he walked around with a bucket full of sand trying to get that baby stretched out," Macha said. "The amount of pain and work that you go through, I don't think any of us can even venture to guess how much fortitude you have to have in order to get back to where he is right now."

Said pitching coach Rick Peterson: "It's big for him to get back. Obviously, he wanted to pitch a lot better than he did, and we all wanted him to pitch better. But to get back here is huge. You would have liked to see seven shutout innings, but that would have been a national story."

Capuano said it felt "good to get down to business," but the truth is that no one knows when his next appointment will come. The Brewers have had depth at the top of their list of priorities since the start of Spring Training, but they will meet next week at Miller Park to set the rotation going forward, with results in mind.

Where that leaves Capuano remains to be seen.

"It's hard for us to speculate," Capuano said. "They have a lot of stuff going on, I know, and a lot of options. As a player, you just try to take what comes and do the best with it. I'm just waiting to hear when I'm going to be pitching next, and I can't wait to get out there."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.