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Reds exercise caution with Chapman

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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A veteran scout is adamant:

The Reds need to demote left-hander Aroldis Chapman and make him a starter.

“As a reliever, you put him in too tight a box,” the scout says. “As a starter, he can stretch it out a little bit and improve his command.”

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The Reds’ Bryan Price, upon hearing the scout’s sentiment, does not react defensively, as many pitching coaches would.

Instead, Price offers a lengthy, detailed analysis of Chapman, considering virtually every angle without giving a definitive answer.

“I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer right now,” Price says. “Time is going to answer that question.”

Time, in fact, might be all that Chapman, 23, needs.

The Reds placed Chapman on the disabled list Monday with shoulder inflammation, a condition that perhaps explains the shocking statistical line from his past four outings:

IP 1.1, H 2, ER 10, BB 12, HBP 1, ERA 67.50.

Once Chapman is healthy, the debate over his future will resume.

Price, sifting through baseball history for comparables to Chapman, cites two other hard-throwing left-handers with big hands, Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson.

“Both struggled with command until they got enough work to figure out how their body works, how to put their hand in the right position to throw quality strikes,” says Price, who was Johnson’s pitching coach with the Diamondbacks in 2007 and ’08.

“I’m not saying this guy is going to be that good. He has never been what Randy Johnson was. Randy Johnson got to the point where he was the best strike-throwing power pitcher in the history of the game. But it took him a while to get there.

“I’m very optimistic (Chapman) is going to get to the point where he throws consistent strikes and becomes a real force and real effective as either a starter or reliever.”

Price understands the argument for making Chapman a starter. Chapman defected from Cuba, signed with the Reds on Jan. 11, 2010, and, eight months later, was pitching in the middle of a pennant race.

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Perhaps it was too much, too soon.

The Reds, Price admits, are “trying to do it all” — develop Chapman in the majors as they try to win games. Yes, Price says, Chapman might benefit from the repetition of starting. But the Reds’ need this season was in the bullpen.

For now, the team is trying everything possible to help Chapman get back on track — video, early work, flat-ground work, extra bullpen sessions. If all that fails, Price says, “we’ll have to look at alternatives that we have yet to investigate.”

A demotion isn’t necessarily the answer.

“Nobody here wants to send this kid down for a multitude of reasons,” Price says. “You have to look at the pros and cons of what the emotional response would be. You’re not dealing with a kid who has been in this country and understands player development.

“There is more than meets the eye here, has been from the inception. This kid has some huge hurdles to get over. Everyone is going to have their opinions. But it’s not as easy to put together as people might think.”

ADRIAN: A LEFT-HANDED EDGAR?

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One thing that rival executives notice about Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez: His opposite-field home runs actually resemble those hit by a right-handed pull hitter — similar velocity, similar authority.

Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan says the thing that stands out most to him about Gonzalez’s opposite-field shots is that they stay straight instead of slicing.

Gonzalez, a left-handed hitter, lets balls get deep in the zone and still hits them with backspin the other way. Edgar Martinez, a right-handed hitter, also hit balls straight to the opposite field, Magadan says.

A rival executive, meanwhile, says it’s basically impossible for teams to attack Gonzalez the way they do other hitters.

“Every pitcher tries to go down and away. That’s where his power stroke is. But you can’t get him out there,” the exec says.

“It’s the best pitch in baseball, and he hits it out of the park. He has a low stroke and huge power the other way.”

REVISITING A FASCINATING TRADE

For the first half of last season, it appeared the Tigers got the best of their three-way deal with the Yankees and Diamondbacks at the 2009 winter meetings.

Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson was hot. Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson was not. Other players in the trade were still evolving; Tigers righty Max Scherzer even spent time in the minors.

A year later, the overall picture is less clear, and the final verdict is still not within reach.

Granderson has emerged as one of the game’s most productive center fielders, while Jackson is rebounding from an early season slump.

The D-backs ended up with two quality right-handed starters — Ian Kennedy from the Yankees, and Daniel Hudson in exchange for another righty they acquired from the Tigers, Edwin Jackson.

The best player in the trade, meanwhile, could end up being Scherzer, who went from the D-Backs to the Tigers — and is 6-0 with a 3.20 ERA.

WANT TOUGH? HERE’S TOUGH

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Barbarisi wrote in March about Bridget Johnson, the daughter of Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson who had a terrible accident last summer that bonded the Red Sox and Yankees.

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Bridget, then 10, was riding her horse, Rhonda, when they were struck by a car near the family’s home in Morrison, Tenn. Bridget’s left leg was severed; the horse had to be put down.

The Red Sox players donated money to help pay Bridget’s medical bills, and Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long held a team meeting asking the Yankees to chip in as well — Johnson had been Long’s manager at Double A Wichita in 1995.

Bridget will undergo one more surgery — her 17th — in June.

“I’m prejudiced — she’s my kid,” Johnson said. “But I challenge anybody to show me someone as tough. I get strength from her. She’s special.”

THE BRAVES’ LEADING PURSUIT

As I reported Saturday in my “Full Count” video, the Braves’ starting-pitching depth will give them an advantage at the trade deadline — that is, if the club develops a need.

Right now, the Braves are fairly set.

The team’s offense — 10th in the NL in runs per game — should improve if second baseman Dan Uggla, right fielder Jason Heyward and first baseman Freddie Freeman reach their expected offensive levels.

In a perfect world, the Braves would add a dynamic leadoff hitter and drop Martin Prado to the No. 2 spot. They do not yet have a vacant position for such a player, but that could change at the end of the season.

Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is a potential free agent, and center fielder Nate McLouth also will be free if the Braves decline his $10.65 million option.

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore, Twins center fielder Denard Span and Athletics left fielder David DeJesus are among the leadoff types who could be available in free agency or trade.

A MANAGER WHO KNOWS HOW TO DEVELOP

Those who recall Ned Yost’s managing style with the Brewers probably were not surprised when he allowed light-hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar to bat last Tuesday night with one out, the bases loaded and his team trailing the Yankees 3-1.

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Yost showed a similar commitment to developing his young players in Milwaukee, often sticking with them in difficult spots. He fought to keep shortstop J.J. Hardy in the majors and declined to remove second baseman Rickie Weeks for late-inning defensive replacements, as he tried to build each youngster’s confidence.

Escobar struck out against Yankees right-hander David Robertson, as did the Royals’ following hitter, Chris Getz. But Yost had his reasons for declining to hit for Escobar. Just as he did with the Brewers, Yost is trying to prepare the Royals to win.

“If you think a guy is going to hit, you run into problems if you don’t allow them, in those high-leverage situations, to hit. When we get to the point where we’re going to compete for a championship, he needs that experience,” Yost told the Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton.

“You have to be strong enough to develop in the face of trying to win. And you have to understand what comes with that at times. Small picture, does it hurt us? Yeah. But does it help us in the big picture? Yeah.”

WHERE’S MY MAN?

My choice for AL Rookie of the Year, Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, remains at Triple A while Orioles lefty Zach Britton, Mariners righty Michael Pineda, Angels closer Jordan Walden and even Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer are emerging as early candidates for the award.

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What gives?

Lawrie, 21, is batting .321/.375/.574 even after going 0-for-5 Sunday and playing well at his new position, according to club officials. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be a case of Super 2 concerns overriding baseball considerations. The team apparently just wants to make sure that Lawrie completes his development properly.

The Jays got it right with catcher J.P. Arencibia, allowing him to progress one step at a time and even repeat Triple A, where he was the Pacific Coast League MVP last season. But they rushed outfielder Travis Snider, who reached the majors at age 20 in 2008 and is now back in the minors.

Each player is different, of course. And Lawrie looks like he may be getting close.

He was too aggressive offensively earlier in the season — he’s such a talented hitter, he believes he can hit everything. But he is showing improved plate discipline, with six of his 11 walks coming in the last five games.

AROUND THE HORN

• Remember earlier in the season when the White Sox seemingly faced one hot pitcher after another?

The quality of their opposing starters contributed to the team’s poor start, but the Sox had better luck during their recent West Coast trip, going 6-3.

True, they lost to the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez on the first game of the trip and beat the Athletics’ Trevor Cahill in the finale.

But, in between, the Sox missed the Mariners’ Michael Pineda, Angels’ Jered Weaver and Dan Haren and Athletics’ Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez.

They did lose to the A’s latest breakout pitcher, though — right-hander Tyson Ross.

• Is Jorge Posada partly the victim of poor luck?

Judging from his .164 batting average on balls in play — the lowest in the majors by 40 points — the answer would seem to be “yes.”

However, BABIP excludes home runs, and six of Posada’s 18 hits are homers. His line-drive percentage is a career low. His groundball percentage is his highest since 2004. And, obviously, he’s not going to beat out many grounders.

• A story by ESPN.com’s Amy Nelson detailed how Yankees catcher Russell Martin goes for manicures to make sure his pitchers can see his fingers when he gives signs.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a former catcher, said he has had only one manicure in his life.

“My wife made me get one for our wedding,” Girardi said.

Some catchers apply white-out to their nails to make their signs clearer, but Martin went for a brighter touch.

“He’s got a little style to him,” Girardi said.

• Yes, the Yankees took note of the Royals’ much-improved bullpen when Kansas City visited Yankee Stadium last week.

“Everyone out there throws 107 (mph),” Girardi said, exaggerating only slightly.

Right-hander Jeremy Jeffress — whose average velocity this season is 96.9 mph, according to PitchFx data on Fangraphs.com — did not even pitch in the series.

• The Dodgers, fourth in the NL in rotation ERA, should pitch well enough to remain a factor in the NL West — and right-hander Vicente Padilla has been a godsend in relief with Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo on the DL.

Padilla, 33, is both fearless and a strike thrower — two necessary qualities for a closer. The Dodgers were not certain his arm could hold up for 90-100 pitches every fifth day. Fifteen to 20 pitches three to four days a week probably is more realistic.

• The Rockies averaged 5.6 runs during their 11-2 start but only 3.9 in their 9-16 slide since. First baseman Todd Helton (.931 OPS) has been their only consistent hitter.

Another issue: The bullpen. The Rockies continue to stick with two untrustworthy relievers, righty Felipe Paulino and lefty Franklin Morales.

Both are out of options, and the team apparently fears losing them on waivers. Meanwhile, both lefty Rex Brothers and righty Matt Daley are pitching well at Triple A.

Astros GM Ed Wade, talking about right-hander Bud Norris, says the pitcher’s maturity level has “reached a new plateau.”

“He’s making a more concerted effort to understand what pitching at this level is,” Wade says. “It’s not just making pitches. Sometimes it’s pitching over mistakes behind you, not getting absorbed in one at-bat and moving on to get the next hitter out.

“His focus has improved. Being around (Brett) Myers has really helped him. Brett sees Bud going through some of the same things he went through earlier in his career.”

Norris, 26, is 2-2 with a 3.42 ERA in eight starts after going 9-10 with a 4.92 ERA last season.

Tagged: Orioles, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Brewers, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Blue Jays, Braves, Reds, Astros, Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Alex Gonzalez, Brett Myers, Adrian Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Russell Martin, Dan Uggla, Martin Prado, Ian Kennedy, Gio Gonzalez, Austin Jackson, Brett Anderson, Aroldis Chapman, Alcides Escobar, Bud Norris

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