Hal McCoy on the reports that the Reds will return Aroldis Chapman to the closer role.
By HAL MCCOYFS Ohio
They made a movie about
Aroldis Chapman’s early baseball life when he was only a 1 -year-old.
It was called ‘Major League,’ about a closer named Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, but they put him in the wrong Ohio city — Cleveland instead of Cincinnati — and they cast a short right-hander — Charlie Sheen — as the closer instead of a tall left-hander.
Even Sheen, a baseball fan who roots only for the
Cincinnati Reds, thought Chapman should be the team’s closer in 2013.
And that’s the way it appears it will be.
After experimenting this winter and through the first two-thirds of spring training of transposing Chapman from the closer to the starting rotation, the Reds are reportedly ready to announce that they will stick with the status quo. It was a status quo that worked extremely well for the team last year — 97 wins and a National League Central championship.
Less than a week ago, the 25-year-old Cuban-born Chapman let it be known that he preferred to remain as the closer, citing the excitement and adrenaline rush he received in the role. Manager Dusty Baker and most of the Cincinnati players said they’d like to see Chapman remain in the bullpen for the betterment of the team.
And that’s what pitching coach Bryan Price said all along, “That it would come down to what’s best for the team.”
Keeping Chapman as closer is certainly just that — best for the team.
The Reds don’t really need a starter right now. They have the same five starters right now who made every start last season — Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. None missed a single regular-season start last year.
It was Leake who was the odd man gone if Chapman joined the rotation, but Baker and Price championed the cause of the 25-year-old 2009 No. 1 draft pick, who jumped directly from Arizona State University onto the Reds roster.
Leake's work for 2½ seasons has resulted in a 28-22 record for his 78 major league starts, certainly not a record to cause him to be tossed aside.
With Chapman in the bullpen, Leake can do what he did last season — be one of the most feared closers in the game with his 100 miles-per-hour fastballs and hard slider.
“Our bullpen last year was one of the best in baseball and more than half our wins were in games Chapman pitched,” said Baker, a guy who didn’t want to mess with success.
And it was more than half. The Reds were 60-6 in games in which Chapman appeared during their 97-win season.
It enables Baker to keep the back end of his bullpen the way it was. If Chapman had been moved to the rotation, mostly likely the closer would have been Jonathan Broxton, a guy with closing experience.
But after the Reds obtained him from Kansas City last mid-season he was used as a successful setup guy, a right-hander who shared the role with left-handed setup man Sean Marshall.
There is no better moment in baseball these days than in Great American Ball Park in the ninth inning when the bullpen gate opens and the long-legged, clarinet-thin Chapman trots toward the mound with the stadium buzzing and smart phone cameras flashing.
Chapman was wise in his thinking and said, “I know I have been successful as a closer in the majors. I know I can do it. I don’t know if I can be a major league starter.”
Many scouts from other teams thought the Reds were off their game by considering Chapman in the rotation.
Can he pitch six or seven innings? Can he maintain his velocity? Can he get by with only one major league pitch (his fastball, because they don’t believe his slider and changeup are major league caliber)? Will batters hone in on him after seeing him the second or third time in the same game?
Those questions won’t have to be answered. If the reports are true, Chapman is back in his comfort zone as the closer, the spot from which he made the All-Star team last summer (voted in by fellow players) and finished eighth in the Cy Young balloting.