When he jogs in from the mound at the Great American Ball Park there is a low-grade buzz of anticipation. There is something magical about a pitcher throwing 100 mph and Cincinnati Reds fans love it when the radar gun lights up for Aroldis Chapman.
Many baseball fans round off the fastball speed of pitchers to the century mark, but really almost all of them–the fastest of them–flame out in the high 90s. Not Chapman. He really can zip it up to the plate that fast. Not every throw. Not every time. But when the triple digits go up, the fans get a charge out of hit, a brief thrill. Although there is some question whether it was a genuine speed or not, the claimed fastest pitch Chapman has thrown in the majors was clocked at 105.1 mph.
The hype and frenzy that surrounded Chapman’s defection from Cuba a few years ago and the subsequent bidding for his talents, has died down a bit. He signed a six-year, $30-million deal in 2010. The Reds have carefully nurtured the 6-foot-4, 195-pound thrower, resisted any temptation to rush him. After a stint at AAA Louisville, he joined the franchise in 2010, spent all of 2011 with the team except for a brief rehab period in the minors. Yet he is only 24.
This was going to be the season when Chapman challenged for a spot in the rotation. Then the Reds’ smartly laid off-season plans constructing the pitching staff blew up when closer Ryan Madson‘s arm blew out. So Chapman has started the season in the bullpen once again, and not as a closer, but as a set-up man.
That means Chapman is being sparingly and quietly used. The spotlight doesn’t shine on seventh-inning or eighth-inning relievers. Through Monday, Chapman had appered in 11 games for the Reds this season. They have all been short outings of an inning or so tops. He is 2-0 in 14 2/3 innings and get this…his earned run average is 0.00.
The slender southpaw with the big arm finally came up with a more impressive number than 100 mph. 0.00 is perfect. He has not given up an earned run this year and he has 25 strikeouts. It can’t last, but man it’s been impressive so far.
It may be time to give Chapman a bigger role. It’s all been a tease so far. Just short cameo roles mowing down hitters and he hits the showers. Wow.
Chapman’s first language is Spanish and how much English he knows is difficult to determine. During a recent trip to the Reds’ clubhouse I walked past Chapman, smiled at him, said “Good job” and he smiled back at me, even though I kind of doubt he actually knew what I said.
Manager Dusty Baker knows he’s on to something good, but he is still holding Chapman back, almost in reserve, as the Reds organization comes to a concensus about how to use him best.
“Eventually, his best role is going to be starting,” Baker said. “He’s been pressed into this role now because of necessity. “I don’t know where we’d be without him in the bullpen right now.”
Batters can barely see Chapman’s pitches. They are barely touching them. It’s difficult not to salivate at the thought of what he might do when he becomes a starter.