Eight weeks after beaning, Chapman set to return
Reds closer could be activated Friday, insists he won't be affected by incident
BOSTON -- Perhaps as soon as Friday, the Reds' bullpen door could open and closer Aroldis Chapman will cross its threshold for the first time in this regular season.
On a baseball level, it will be very big for the club.
"Any time you can add an All-Star at midseason without having to give up one of your premier players, it's obviously going to be a boost," Cincinnati reliever Sam LeCure said.
On a purely human level, it will mean even more.
It would signify that -- in just about eight weeks -- Chapman overcame a truly horrifying incident that could have affected both life and career.
On March 19 in a Spring Training game against the Royals in Arizona, the left-hander's 99-mph fastball to Salvador Perez was rocketed up the middle. The line drive hit Chapman in the front of his head and put him on the ground for 12 minutes before a stretcher carried him off the field before a shocked crowd. The game, still in the sixth inning, was immediately called off.
Reds shortstop Zack Cozart was playing behind Chapman and was one of the first to reach the mound after he went down.
"When it comes to playing baseball, that was the scariest thing I've ever been a part of on the field -- and somewhat off the field, too," Cozart said Wednesday. "You never know when that happens if it's life-threatening. You just don't know. I was right there on the mound. Blood was everywhere. It was a sick feeling in our stomachs."
Chapman suffered fractures above his left eye and nose, and he also suffered a mild concussion. He underwent surgery the following day, when a three-inch plate and 12 screws stabilized the bones and several staples were put into his head to close the incision.
Remarkably, the physical recovery was quick, and without the hurdles of long-term damage. Chapman visited the team's clubhouse a couple of days later after being released from the hospital. He was back to throwing again in early April and worked from a bullpen mound April 14. Last week, Chapman began a Minor League rehab assignment.
"You're aware that it could have been worse," LeCure said. "We're thankful that while it was still a very serious thing, it could have gone a different way. I've been with Chappy since he first got here, really. I feel like he and I are pretty good buddies. So as a friend, to see your friend come back from adversity like that, it's going to be nice."
Chapman has made four rehab appearances, and while he looked good physically and had his velocity, two performances were good and two were bad.
In two outings for Class A Dayton, Chapman pitched two scoreless and hitless innings. When he moved up to Triple-A Louisville this week, he was roughed up. On Tuesday night while throwing 33 pitches, Chapman lasted only two-thirds of an inning and gave up five runs and four hits with one walk, one hit batter, one wild pitch and one strikeout.
Back quickly Wednesday afternoon, Chapman made 21 pitches and allowed three runs and three hits over one-third of an inning with one walk and one strikeout.
Entering this week, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price had targeted Friday as Chapman's return date. After Wednesday's results, Price was more noncommittal.
"I'd like to get some feedback from those that saw him pitch," Price said. "I think sometimes for these guys, they go down and see it as a rehab and don't see it as competition. We have to look at every opportunity to pitch as competition."
Catcher Corky Miller, who was behind the plate when Chapman pitched at Louisville, appeared to not be concerned about Chapman's readiness should he be activated Friday.
"He gets that extra gear when the game is on the line, the lights are on and the stadium is full. He always has, ever since he got to the big leagues," Miller told the FOX Sports Ohio website. "He thrives on that and sometimes you need that. You come out here, a 6:30 game in Louisville, it's a little different."
Throughout the express process of his comeback, Chapman has maintained he is not mentally affected by his ordeal -- nor afraid of another comebacker hitting and hurting him.
"I know me and I know that I don't think I'm going to have any issue with that," Chapman said April 11. "I've thought about the way that I feel and the way that I am. I don't think this is going to affect me."
Jonathan Broxton has gone 5-for-5 in save opportunities while filling for Chapman, but the Reds have had trouble getting and holding leads on their way to the ninth. The rest of the bullpen is a combined 1-for-6 in save chances.
Cincinnati relievers are 2-9 with a 4.52 ERA that is the second worst among National League clubs. Getting Chapman back would enable Broxton to return to a setup role and help Price not overwork LeCure and Manny Parra, who have been the team's other two most reliable relievers.
"Jonathan has been doing a great job. But we feel Chappy will be that guy in the ninth, sooner than later," LeCure said. "It will be nice to have him back. It's nice to see him recover from it. I think, as a mental thing for the guys who pitch and are in the position to get balls hit back off of their heads, it's nice to see he can come back, be OK and be that same guy. I think he will be very good for us."
A two-time NL All-Star, Chapman has saved 38 games in 43 chances in each of the last two seasons while making 68 appearances both years. His electric 100-plus mph fastball remains a showstopper for fans and a challenge for opposing hitters in the ninth.
"I've had the privilege, ever since I've been in the big leagues, of having him saving games for us," Cozart said. "To have him back, not just because I think he's the best closer in the game, but also healthy and feeling good is very important."