Left-hander Aroldis Chapman will be bringing his 100 mph fastball out of the bullpen again this season.
The Cincinnati Reds decided to keep Chapman as their closer on Friday instead of moving him into the starting rotation, a move that pleased the Cuban pitcher. He was a vital part of the Reds’ drive to the NL Central title last year, saving 38 games.
General manager Walt Jocketty signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal after last season, giving the Reds a proven closer so they could move Chapman into the rotation. The left-hander was a starter during spring training, but said last week he had become comfortable as a closer and would rather stay in that role.
The Reds took his preference into account in making the decision, though it wasn’t the overriding factor.
”Unsolicited, he said that,” manager Dusty Baker said. ”You want a guy at a comfort level. But do you tell your boss what to do? If you do, you won’t be working long.”
The Reds will use Chapman in one-inning roles for the rest of spring training, getting him ready to pitch several days in a row during the season. They open at home on April 1 against the Angels.
Baker also announced his rotation on Friday. Johnny Cueto will start the opener, followed by Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake, who had been competing with Chapman for the final spot.
”That’s a very strong rotation,” Jocketty said. ”And putting Chapman back to the closer role with Jonathan Broxton – who might close some games – gives us a very strong bullpen. As we evaluated it, we felt it was best.
”We’re a team that’s built for now. We’re built to win now. This in our opinion gives us the best opportunity to do that.”
The Reds have won the division two of the last three years, but failed to get past the first round of the playoffs.
Chapman chose the Reds when he left Cuba, agreeing to a six-year, $30.25 million deal in early 2010. The Reds started getting him ready to be a starter in the minors, but moved him to the bullpen when they needed help their during their 2010 surge to the division title.
They were preparing him to be a starter again last year before the back end of the bullpen got wiped out by injuries during spring training, with closer Ryan Madson tearing up his elbow. The Reds eased Chapman into the closer role – one he’d never done before – and he became one of the major leagues’ best.
Chapman had 38 saves in 43 chances after moving into the role on May 20. He converted a team-record 27 straight chances.
If Chapman had won a spot in the rotation, the Reds would have limited his innings to protect his arm during the transition, leaving him unavailable to pitch late in the season.
”We wouldn’t have gotten 200 innings out of him this year,” Jocketty said. ”That’s a factor, too.”
The Reds think Chapman eventually could be their top starter, but he’s more valuable as a closer this year.
”There’s a point that your No. 1 starter is worth more than your closer,” Baker said. ”But how do you know if he’s your No. 1 or not? Hopefully someday we’ll find out.”