Reds giving Aroldis Chapman a chance to start

Aroldis Chapman was getting ready to start for the Cincinnati

Reds last spring when the bullpen got wiped out by injuries,

forcing a different approach. The hard-throwing Cuban became one of

baseball’s best closers in his first try at it.

He’s on the same course this spring, trying to win a spot in the

rotation – and his manager is keeping an open mind about where

he’ll end up eventually.

So is Chapman, who worked on his changeup over the winter to add

another pitch in case he starts.

”I will prepare the same way I did last year,” Chapman said,

with trainer Tomas Vera translating. ”I would like to start a

season and throw as many innings as I can, but that’s up to the

team. When I was in Cuba, I threw 150 innings. I will prepare

myself to throw as many innings as they want me to throw.”

Chapman, who turns 25 on Feb. 28, was expected to develop into a

starter when the Reds signed him in 2010. He struggled with his

control in the minors and the Reds used him as a reliever for the

first time in his career to help them win the NL Central in

2010.

He was a setup man again in 2011, but had streaks of control

problems. The Reds gave him a chance to do what’s most familiar to

him – start games – during spring training last season, and Chapman

showed improvement.

When closer Ryan Madson tore a ligament in his elbow and the two

setup men got hurt during spring training, manager Dusty Baker

switched Chapman back into the bullpen, using him initially in a

setup role and then as the closer. This time, Chapman excelled.

The left-hander didn’t allow a run until his 16th appearance of

the season. He didn’t become the closer until May 20, yet tied for

third in the NL in saves. From June 26 through Aug. 17, Chapman

turned in 23 consecutive scoreless appearances. He converted a

team-record 27 straight save chances.

The Reds told Chapman at the end of last season that they were

planning to make him a starter. Their other five starters are

right-handers, and Chapman – whose fastball has been clocked at 105

mph – would give the rotation a much different look.

”Chapman has the chance to be a top-flight starter,” general

manager Walt Jocketty said. ”I always wanted to have a left-hander

in the rotation.”

Chapman threw mostly fastballs as a closer, mixing in an

occasional slider. He has worked on his changeup in the offseason,

knowing he’ll need another pitch if he starts.

”He didn’t throw the changeup too much, but it is better than

his slider,” Jocketty said. ”He is a great athlete. You ought to

see him hit. He is one of the fastest runners on the team.”

The Reds signed Jonathan Broxton to a $21 million, three-year

deal in November, giving themselves a closer and freeing Chapman to

move to the rotation. Although they have faith in Broxton, it’s a

change that could have a big overall impact.

”It’s kind of tough the way we had a shut-down bullpen last

year,” Baker said. ”We had the guys lined up.”

Baker wouldn’t rule out moving Chapman back to the bullpen if

injuries or other problems occur.

”That’s a maybe,” Baker said. ”It’s the same situation as

last year. We started with Chapman as a starter, then Ryan Madson

went down. We had no idea that Chapman would be as good as a

closer. I don’t think anybody did.”

There’s also the question of how many innings Chapman will be

allowed to pitch as he moves into the new role. In his first season

in the organization, he threw 109 innings. He totaled 71 2-3

innings last season.

Chapman has developed a tired shoulder on at least one occasion

during his career with Cincinnati. The Reds will watch him closely

to see how his shoulder handles the extra innings.

”It’s a risk when you throw that hard anyway, you know?” Baker

said.

Chapman is willing to do whatever the Reds ask. Although he was

initially concerned about the move to the bullpen because he’d

never done it before, he’s now comfortable with closing games and

wouldn’t mind doing it again.

”I have never started in the big leagues,” Chapman said.

”I’ve had success as a reliever. If I had to choose, I would chose

to do what I’ve had success with. But I will do whatever they want

me to do.”