Reds’ Pena amazed by Chapman’s history making ability

Cincinnati Reds' Brayan Pena, left, congratulates relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman after they defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 in a baseball game, Friday, July 11, 2014, in Cincinnati. Pena drove in the winning run in the eighth inning and Chapman struck out the side in the ninth inning to earn his 20th save. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Al Behrman/AP

CINCINNATI — When the bullpen gate swings open and Aroldis Chapman begins his trot toward the pitching mound, Great American Ball Park becomes a one-man stage and the spotlight shines directly on Chapman. The rest of the players stand in the shadows, bit players in The Aroldis Chapman Show.

And the show Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks could have been entitled, ‘Cuban Heat.’ Chapman struck out the side on 20 pitches. Fifteen were fastballs between 101 and 104 miles an hour — five at 101, four at 102, five at 103 and one at 104.

So who was the most impressed guy in the stadium? It was his teammate and sometimes catcher Brayan Pena.

"And you know what, he doesn’t know how special he is," said Pena. "For him that is something normal. We are witnessing history. I can tell my kids and grandkids, ‘I was there. I saw this guy.’ He doesn’t even realize how good he is."

Chapman set a record that is ongoing — he has struck out at least one batter in 44 straight appearances for a relief pitcher, and most of the time he does it in one inning.

"It is sick, I’m telling you, it is sick," said Pena, a fellow Cuban. "He throws a change-up and it is 91 miles an hour. Now that’s REALLY sick. Then he comes into the clubhouse, puts some ice on his shoulder, and that’s it. Like nothing happened. He is special, man. He doesn’t know how special he is."

Asked if he’d like to face him, Pena smiled and said, "I did. Once. I got a hit off him." It was when Pena was with Kansas City and he faced Chapman in spring training, Chapman’s first appearance with the Reds in 2010. "I won’t face him again. Not even in spring training live batting practice. Nope, won’t do it, no chance."

Pena says if you ask about anybody in the big leagues who they don’t want to face and he says, "Has to be Chapman. Definitely Chapman."

After Chapman struck out Arizona catcher Miguel Montero Monday, the catcher who caught Chapman in the All-Star game, Montero said he would rather hit against him than try to catch him.

Pena was mystified about that.

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"C’mon, Montero, are you serious?," said Pena. "What kind of Venezuelan drink are you taking? Chapman? Man, he is unbelievable, amazing."

Pena says Chapman doesn’t talk about spinning the dials at triple digits every time he throws a fastball.

"When you ask about it, how he does it, he just says, ‘Dude, I don’t know. It’s natural.’ He used to be a boxer in Cuba so he believes all the shoulder exercises he did to prepare for matches really helped him a lot."

Pena says whenever he sees a camera he tries to photo bomb Chapman, "Because he is history. One day people who won’t know who I am might say, ‘Hey, that’s Pena standing there with Chapman.’ This kid is unbelievable. So unreal."

"How can a human being throw that many pitches over 100 miles an hour?" Pena added. "It is impossible."

Pena brought up another member of the Reds bullpen, Jumbo Diaz, who regularly hits 98 and 99 miles an hour.

"No disrespect," said Pena, "I see him 98, 99, 99 and I go, ‘Why doesn’t he hit triple digits?’ Why not? Because this is hard. With Chapman it’s boom 100, boom 101, boom 102. So you see how hard Diaz throws and you know it is not that easy to get triple digits. And Chapman makes it look like it is nothing, like, ‘OK, I just want to get ahead so here’s 100.’

Pena barely paused to inhale a breath and said, "Let’s face it, some are chosen. Some people are born to come into this game to make history, to leave their prints in this game forever. What we’re watching is one of those."

Is there anything Chapman can’t do?

Pena laughed and said that in Cuba you either play baseball or play dominoes, "Because there is nothing else to do in Cuba. And you better be good at dominoes. Aroldis? Bad domino player. Terrible domino player. If you aren’t a baseball player in Cuba, you have to be a very good domino player. Thank God he is a great baseball player because he is a bad domino player."