Capuano's sharp outing impresses Collins

Chris Capuano during a spring training workout at

Chris Capuano during a spring training workout at Digital Domain stadium in Port St. Lucie. (Feb. 22, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Chris Capuano said he hasn't felt this good physically in "three or four years."

And if his lights-out outing Saturday is any indication, Capuano also might turn out to be the Mets' best fifth starter in three or four years.

Facing the Nationals Saturday, Capuano threw 52/3 scoreless innings in a 7-4 split-squad victory at Digital Domain Park. He allowed three hits, walked none and struck out five.

Manager Terry Collins described Capuano's performance as "an artistic job of pitching," praising him for his "tremendous concentration" and strong work ethic.

Collins said Capuano even wanted to bunt with no one on base during his final at-bat so he could work on that aspect of his game.

Having undergone two Tommy John surgeries on his left elbow, Capuano, 32, is most pleased that he can focus all his efforts during spring training without any limitations. He has a 1.69 ERA in 102/3 innings in Grapefruit League play, which doesn't count five scoreless innings he threw in a minor-league game.

"Going into this offseason and being able to attack the offseason without rehabbing or being off schedule was great," he said. "Going into this year, there's a much different focus, a little more intense focus."

Extra bases

A day after receiving a cortisone shot in his left knee, Carlos Beltran hit in the indoor cages and threw, Collins said. The manager added that Beltran could ramp up his rehab and start running Sunday . . . Scott Hairston, one of the candidates to fill in for Beltran in rightfield if he starts the season on the disabled list, went 2-for-3 with a triple and three RBIs in the 7-4 win over the Nationals . . . In Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the other Mets played to a 3-3 tie with the Braves in 10 innings. Willie Harris hit his second home run of spring training . . . The Mets are 11-11-2.

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