Aroldis Chapman States Starter/Closer Preference As Decision Looms For Cincinnati Reds

By Thom Tsang
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The much-ballyhooed (and for good reason) conversion to starting that Aroldis Chapman is going through is one of the biggest-kept ‘will-they-or-won’t-they?’ secrets for the Cincinnati Reds this spring.

Now that he’s been on the mound a few times, though, people just can’t seem to stop talking about it.

Except … well, the early reviews have been mixed.

The results have been there for Chapman in his outings thus far, as he’s only allowed a pair of runs on five hits over eight innings of work. The thing that’s making the team unsure, however, is that the velocity hasn’t gotten near the expected range that it should be at. In his start on March 5, the lefty was repeatedly hitting 91 mph on the radar gun, topping out at 93.

Given that the triple-digit fastball is the Cuban Missile’s go-to pitch, the significant drop from 98.2 mph in 2012 as a reliever to 91 as a starter may be causing some alarms to go off in the same way that the alarms went off for Daniel Bard, a failed starter-to-reliever experiment gone wrong last season.

In fact, one rival scout has even told FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that it was “crazy” for the team to continue trying to turn him into a starter.

The good news, on the other hand, is that those concerns don’t seem to be showing in his work on the mound … sort of.

Facing the San Francisco Giants in what was likely the final start in the team’s evaluation process of how the transition is going, the (former?) top closer put in a solid four innings of work, allowing a run on a pair of hits and striking out two.

Chapman did get off to a shaky start as he walked a pair of hitters to start his day, but recovered well enough to avoid significant damage. The rest of the innings were also mixed bag — he retired his last five batters consecutively, which would have suggested that the left-hander was on a roll on the mound, but the fact that all of them were flyouts may be a source of concern.

Was it enough to convince the Reds to keep the process going? Perhaps, but ask Chapman, and there’s no doubt where he’d like to be:

A decision is expected from the Reds camp over the next couple of days, but given that manager Dusty Baker prefers his top closer to stay there as well, the team might take the Occam’s Razor approach to things and just keep him in the ninth inning.

As for whether that’s the Reds’ best long-term decision? Like everything else about this process so far, the answer seems to be unclear.

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