Chapman wows as Reds fall to Pirates
CINCINNATI — Boos, moans and groans were the order of the night for Cincinnati Reds fans Monday in Great American Ball Park.
When a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates are pounding on your noggin, using the basepaths as their personal merry-go-round, there is not much cause to sing Kool & The Gang's song "Celebration".
But there is always Aroldis Chapman to light up their lives, or light up the speed gun, which is what he did in the ninth inning of a 9-3 loss to the Pirates.
The Cuban Missile hadn't been out of the silo in three days due to some inflammation in his shoulder that reduced his triple-digit velocity significantly.
At least that's what the speed gun in San Diego's Petco Park said last Wednesday — a paltry 91 to 93. More on that Petco speed gun later.
Chapman had pitched four times in five days before last Wednesday and with his velocity sinking faster than real estate prices, the Reds shut him down.
His return was Monday and, well, the fans finally had something for which to emote and they did it with high decibels when he threw a 1-and-1 pitch to Andrew McCutcheon at 106 miles an hour during his 1-2-3 ninth inning.
He threw a pitch at 105 last year that was the fastest in recorded history and now the lights say he is at 106.
That's wonderful. The fans gasped and giggled, but can Chapman come back Tuesday or Wednesday or both?
That's what manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price are working to discover about the 23-year-old left-hander from Holguin, Cuba.
"Can we afford to give him three or four days off so he can throw as hard as he did tonight?" said Baker. "Will he get conditioned to go a couple of days in a row?
"Everybody wants him to be our closer, but you can't be a closer right now only pitching a couple of days a week," said Baker. "A closer has to go three or five days in a row sometimes. And then he might not be used in a week. That's the way things go."
What the Grand Plan really was going into the season was for Chapman to replaced 40-year-old left-handed set-up man Arthur Rhodes, who was stunningly good last year but left as a free agent to sign with Texas.
"We were hoping he would step into Arthur Rhodes' spot," said Baker. "Chapman hasn't acclimated to pitching in consecutive days yet, which that role requires."
Price says Chapman is a work in progress, one that has all the high-tech and high-speed pieces but needs to be tweaked and tested.
"So far that second day has been a challenge for him and we understand that," said Price. "Most pitchers are going to have a much longer process in learning how to pitch out of the bullpen.
"We're trying not to ask more out of him than we should, but we have to anticipate that our relievers can throw on back-to-back days. But it is a process," he added.
Price smiled and shook his head and said, "How many case studies do you have with a relief pitcher who throws — well, apparently now 106 miles an hour? We don't know what type of toll that takes on a day-to-day basis."
To cut down on overuse, Price, Baker and Chapman discussed in depth and at length how much Chapman does pre-game with his long toss and flat ground.
"It is a good routine, but we have to limit how much he throws so he can save some bullets for when he comes into a game," said Price. "He is trying to get polished and he needs the repetitions because he is a young kid and needs it. But as part of the bullpen he needs to learn how to get ready — don't throw and throw and throw."
Now about those speed guns that flash the miles per hour on scoreboards all over America.
If Baker had his way, the speed guns on scoreboards all over baseball would disappear quicker than the duck-billed platypus. Gone. Extinct.
There are no rules in Major League Baseball about the use or non-use or the tinkering with the accuracy of speed guns.
And Baker said some places turn down the speed or turn up the speed to fit personal needs.
"Yes, I'd like to see them gone, but it won't happen because fans like them," said Baker. His own fans Monday were Exhibit A, B and Z.
They especially like them when Chapman pitches and he spins the numbers to triple digits.
And Chapman is a case in point for Baker from when the Reds were in San Diego. The Reds knew Chapman's velocity was down, but they knew it wasn't down to 91 and 93, which is what the speed gun in Petco Park was showing.
"That's what kind of threw us off with Chapman," said Baker. "And I'm serious. I've seen teams play with that radar gun. They pump up theirs and turn down ours. And guys don't like looking up there and seeing they are throwing under their norm. Then they try to do more and it ends up being less."
Baker said he has even seen some teams use the gun for some of their pitchers and turn it off for other pitchers on their staffs.
"And sometimes they turn it on for yours and not theirs," Baker added. "There are no rules. I've seen teams turn it off for certain pitchers because it affects them. You see guys throw a pitch, then rub up the ball and look at the gun every time."
Baker said there is one positive function.
"We use it to see if a guy is losing it or tiring," he said. "But some guys will lose it and start pitching because he has more movement. So even that varies from guy to guy. The really bad thing is that it lends itself to guys throwing instead of pitching."