Chapman shines as reliever in Reds' win
CINCINNATI — There are those in Cincinnati Reds country who howled, kicked and screamed when they heard Aroldis Chapman was plopped into the bullpen for the start of the 2012 season.
They argue that the team paid $30 million for the Cuban-born lefthander and $30 million should be the salary of a starter, not a bullpen guy who may or may not pitch on a given day or even a given two or three days.
They argue that the guy throws a baseball so hard it could shatter double-paned bullet-proof glass and that fastball should be fired at opposing hitters every fifth day, from the first pitch to as long as he can whip it up there at warp speed.
But in the eyes of his manager, Dusty Baker, it doesn't matter if Chapman is paid $30 million or $300,000, if he throws 100 miles an hour or 80 miles an hour — Chapman should be ready, willing and able to do what is best for the team, what helps the team the most toward winning baseball games.
Chapman's value to the Reds right now is exactly what he showed Thursday on Opening Day against the Miami Marlins in Great American Ball Park, a 4-0 Cincinnati victory.
Starter Johnny Cueto was a portrait of pitching prettiness for seven innings — no runs, three hits. But, of course, it was his first start of the season and it took him 95 pitches to get through seven.
Time for relief. Time for the bullet train to come in to protect a 2-0 lead.
Chapman — who wants to be starter, but is more than willing to do what is best for the team — didn't disappoint.
First, he struck out Marlins catcher John Buck on three pitches, eradicating him with a 98 mph fastball.
After pinch-hitter Austin Kearns grounded into the hole between third and short, enabling third baseman Scott Rolen to make his usual Gold Glove play, Chapman buckled the knees of Jose Reyes with a 90 mph slider to strike him out.
One, two three. The Reds added two runs in the bottom of the eighth for a 4-0 lead and new closer Sean Marshall took care of the ninth inning.
"That was huge," said Baker. "That eighth inning is probably more important than the ninth, more important than the closer's role. That's when teams usually make their move to get closer in a ballgame.
"That was a great eighth inning," said Baker. "Sure, Aroldis is eventually going to start, but with our bullpen the way it is right now, he is the best man for the job right now."
Chapman was groomed all spring to be a starter, but, as they say, things happen. The Reds lost closer Ryan Madson for the season to Tommy John surgery, forcing them to shift lefthander Marshall into the closer's role.
Lefthanded bullpenner Bill Bray missed half of spring training with a groin injury and is still trying to sharpen his pitches and delivery.
Set-up pitcher Nick Masset landed on the disabled list with tendonitis.
Instead of hanging out a "Help Wanted" sign, the Reds looked within and there sat Chapman, a guy who has worked the last two years in the bullpen.
His competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Homer Bailey, never has pitched in relief, so Baker did the wise and sensible thing — Chapman to the bullpen, Bailey in the rotation.
"Chapman said he knew it could come down to this when he saw the injuries to Madson and Masset, and he was prepared for it," said Baker. "He said he'll do anything for the team, and that's how you win."
And it worked perfectly on a chilly afternoon in GABP.
Will Chapman some day be in the rotation? Most likely. But he isn't needed, nor wanted, right now. The reason was self-evident Thursday.