Reds' Chapman a force to be reckoned with
CINCINNATI — They should carry Aroldis Chapman to the pitching mound from the bullpen in a sedan chair with trumpets blaring.
What Chapman does to opposing hitters needs preceding fanfare to escort him from the bullpen to the mound — 29 innings, no earned runs, seven hits, nine walks, 52 strikeouts.
His fastball is so hard it could break up a fight at a longshoreman's picnic and it is certainly no picnic for opposing hitters forced to face up to it.
While Chapman performs strikeout surgery on hitters, the luckiest baseball players on the face of the earth are the Cincinnati Reds who stand behind him in the field on defense, never asked to lift a bat against him.
They not only rarely have to field a ball, they can hide their laughter behind their gloves as opposing players think to themselves, "This is unfair, totally unfair."
The Reds don't have to bat against the 24-year-old left-hander whose fastball has been clocked at 106 mph and his bendable slider at 92.
So what if they did? What if the Reds had to take their cuts at the lanky Cuban, who appears to be a long pair of legs with a head on top.
How about Joey Votto, a guy who seems to be able to walk across the Ohio River from Kentucky without using a bridge, rescue three people off a sinking Chris-Craft, then rip a game-winning double within a few minutes?
Votto has a .348 average with nine homers and 35 RBI, and he's near the top of nearly every offensive category in the National League.
When asked what his approach would be against Chapman, he smiled broadly and said, "Just the other day I asked him, 'What are you going to do the first time we face each other?' " said Votto. "He told me, 'I'll hit you.'
"And I told him, 'So, I win and you lose. My job is to get on base and your job is to keep me off base, so if you hit me, I win,'" Votto said.
"If I faced him, I'd like it to be a tight situation for him, not a 3-0 lead for him," Votto said. "I'd like a little bit of pressure on him.
"I'd have to first see what his slider looks like from the batter's box, because you can't tell from first base," Votto said. "I'd give myself a lot of space (away from the plate) because I'm not going to have a lot of success with his fastball trying to hit a ball that's in on me.
"As hard as he throws, you can't handle anything high, anything up and in," Votto added. "I'd shorten up (choke up on the bat) like I do with two strikes, do it from the get-go and not try to do too much. If I barrel the ball, it'll still go out of the ball park, but I wouldn't try to do that."
Asked the same question, third baseman Todd Frazier smiled and said, "The question is, 'What approach would he take with me?' "
Then Frazier turned serious and remembered the first time he actually did face Chapman — two years ago during an intrasquad game. Chapman actually did to Frazier what he said he'd do to Votto — he hit him on the leg with the first pitch of spring training and it was, "Down Goes Frazier."
Said Frazier, "For me? Gosh. I'd sit on his fastball for one thing. I'd pick a spot, right out over the plate. Look for the fastball in that spot and anything else I'm going to have to let go by. If it is inside for a strike, you have to let it go. And you have to make sure you catch it out front and maybe I'll line it between short and third. It's pretty hard to hit 99 (mph) to right because you'll pop it up."
Catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is having a breakout season, says it shortly and succinctly, as in, "Keep it simple, stupid."
"I would try not to swing at anything up," he said. "Just don't swing at anything that is up because there is no way you can get on top of it."
Fellow catcher Devin Mesoraco, who like Hanigan catches Chapman's smokeballs but never has to hit them, shook his head and said, "That would be tough. I'd say go after the first pitch he throws for a strike. A lot of times he throws his first pitch right in there at 94 or 95 and you might have a chance. Hope you get a good pitch early on because after that it's 99 and 100 and no chance."
Clean-up hitter Brandon Phillips gets the view from behind at second base and knows the face-on view wouldn't be pretty from the batter's box.
"You have to pick one side of the plate and look for his fastball," Phillips said. "If it's not a fastball where you are looking for it, don't swing. Let him strike you out with his heater instead of his slider. If you are going to strike out, strike out on his best pitch and that's his fastball."
Right fielder Jay Bruce said he would approach Chapman as just another left-handed pitcher, even though he is far from being just another left-handed pitcher.
"I'd approach him the same way I approach all left-handers," Bruce said. "I'd have to make sure to get my swing started on time to give myself as much time as I can. And I'd try to stay in the middle of the field, from center to left center. And I'd look for a fastball, which is pretty much what I do with everybody."
But everybody isn't Aroldis Chapman and, while the Reds willingly talked about a mythical matchup with him, they're awfully happy that it isn't reality.