Chapman wows hitters in live session
Reds lefty impressive with fastball, secondary stuff
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Five Reds hitters that already had their hands full trying to face pitching on their second day of camp were given an extra, unenviable challenge Wednesday.On one of the practice fields, they got to step into the batters' box against Aroldis Chapman during his first experience with live batting practice. The Cuban left-hander definitely had them guessing during his 32-pitch session. "It was terrific. He was in the zone with all three of his pitches," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. "I thought he was sharper against hitters than he was in the bullpen." For all of the hype about Chapman's 100-mph fastball coming into camp, it was his slider and changeup that drew the most raves Wednesday. On his third pitch of the day, Chapman threw a changeup away to infielder Chris Burke, and people standing around the cage were heard saying, "Oooh." "That's a nice little repertoire. Somebody should sign this kid," Burke joked after leaving the cage. Burke, Chris Heisey, Chris Valaika, Yonder Alonso and Corky Miller all took their cuts and were asking each other what they saw. Only one hitter -- Heisey -- made solid contact, and that was only once. "I haven't thrown to a hitter in about eight months. I felt really good," Chapman said through interpreter and Class A pitching coach Tony Fossas. "I threw the ball very efficiently. I thought I had control and command of my pitches." Full-squad workouts just began Tuesday. During the first live BP session of spring, pitchers often throw from behind a screen and tell hitters what's coming. In the team meeting before the workout, Price told pitchers to ditch the screen and not tell hitters what they'd be seeing. "It's probably one of the most unfair days there are in baseball because the pitchers are far ahead of the hitters," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "This is mostly for the pitchers." Spanish-speaking catcher Wilkin Castillo was behind the plate when Chapman pitched. Castillo said he called for pitches like it was a game situation. "His slider was 85-88 mph and breaking a lot. It was pretty nice," Castillo said. "His fastball? Oh my God, it was 98-99 mph and strikes, down and in." Alonso, the Reds' first-round draft pick in 2008 and also Cuban, was the only left-handed hitter that batted against Chapman. He said the pitcher told him he wasn't throwing with 100-percent velocity. Facing the 21-year-old Chapman was not all that uncomfortable for Alonso. "I didn't feel that bad just because I know him. He's my boy," Alonso said. "I told him this morning that, 'If by any chance I have to face you, just don't hit me.' Whoever doesn't know him, God bless, because it's rough."
2010 Spring Training - Cincinnati Reds
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Chapman, who signed a six-year, $30.25 million contract in January, is competing with several pitchers for the fifth spot in the Reds' rotation. Because he pitched in isolated Cuba, very few have seen him on the mound save for international tournaments.The knock on Chapman in various scouting reports had been a lack of command and a lack of quality pitches besides his fastball. "I never really had a slider or changeup," said Chapman, who will throw live BP again Saturday. "The changeup is the pitch that wasn't efficient and I didn't throw much. Since I got here, I've been working really hard on it, and those are pitches I will be able to use." There are many ex-pitchers that washed out of the Majors because they only had 98-mph fastballs. Big league hitters can eventually catch up to those. If Chapman can command three pitches, his chance of making the team out of camp increases greatly. "It's when you get a combination of a guy that's a hard thrower that can command a finesse pitch like a changeup and has a power breaking ball [that you have a difference-maker]," Price said. "That puts you at a big disadvantage when he's got three choices, even when he's behind in the count. Today, he could have pitched with any of those pitches behind in the count." Through three bullpen sessions and one time vs. hitters, there have been no complaints about Chapman being unable to locate the strike zone. On Wednesday, he was adept at following a fastball inside with a changeup away. "If he can command the ball down in the zone like he did today, the sky's the limit for him potentially," Burke said. "Obviously, it's dominating stuff. If he's going to keep the ball down like that and get ahead in counts, what can you really do? As a hitter, you have to be ready to hit the fastball. It's going to give him so much leeway with the slider and changeup." Burke made the common comparison between Chapman and Randy Johnson, who could also reach the high 90s and intimidate hitters with nasty stuff inside. Burke played with Johnson on the D-backs. "When Randy could really command his fastball, what could you really do? You just hoped you ran into one," Burke said. "[Chapman's] slider to me was comparable. It was sharp and came out of the same arm slot. If he can get it in like that, as a right-handed hitter, the best you can do is hope to hit a ground ball hopefully through the left side. "I've been playing long enough to know a special guy. You don't need a radar gun to see when the ball is getting there. The ball was getting there. He's got a little herky-jerky to [his delivery], which is good from a pitching standpoint. It makes us even more uncomfortable."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.