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03/14/12 8:49 PM ET
Chapman taking right steps to be starter
Still making transition, Cuban working on limiting walks
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- After his third appearance and second Cactus League start on Wednesday, Reds left-hander Aroldis Chapman made it clear what he expects his role to be this season. "I've always been a starter and I always like to be a starter," Chapman said through his interpreter, Tomas Vera, an assistant athletic trainer with the club. "Right now, I'm here looking to be a starter and that's what I'd like to do." That remains to be seen, but Chapman made another pitch in a 9-4 loss to the Padres that was the afternoon portion of a split-squad doubleheader. After a shaky start, Chapman settled down to work three innings, allowing a run on four hits with two strikeouts, picked two runners off first and, most importantly, walked no one. Last year, when Chapman was a setup man in the bullpen and spent a small part of the season in the Minor Leagues, he walked 7.4 batters per nine innings -- 41 total in 50 innings for the Reds. His WHIP was a gaudy 1.30.
Chapman, 24 and a starter on the Cuban National team who defected not long after the 2009 World Baseball Classic, said he didn't have to be told to cut down on the walks. That was obvious. He knew he had to get his head on straight, and Reds manager Dusty Baker said that's been a big difference. "Right now, he's throwing strikes. Last year, he had some off-the-field stuff going on. Cuban, family stuff. That makes it tough," Baker said, during his morning media session prior to the game. "This year, it appears to be better. As far as his development, last year, he had seven walks per nine. This year, he looks like he has his mechanics down. He's working quicker. He was already good. You just never know when a guy is going to go from good to great." Baker wouldn't be explicit about the "family stuff," describing it only as "problems." Without going into details, Chapman acknowledged the issue and also said matters are better. "He's different than most," Baker said when asked if it's tougher for Latin players to adjust to the U.S. "Most of the other Latins can go home. That's the difference. He can't go home. He can go home, but he might not be able to come back if he does. It's tough on him with his family, wondering what's going on back there. "We talk about it sometimes, but I hesitate to ask him because that could stir up some emotions that don't need to be stirred up. It's a very difficult situation. Sometimes he's not here mentally. You don't know where he is." Where he was on Wednesday was on the mound, trying to figure it all out. He allowed a game-opening single to Cameron Maybin and then picked him off. Andy Parrino, trying to win a backup infield spot on the Padres, then homered deep into the left-field berm. Kyle Banks doubled down the left-field line. But that was it for San Diego's scoring against Chapman, who clamped down, tossing a mixture of split-finger fastballs to accompany the usual heater. Chapman said that he'd been told by the Reds to abandon the splitter when he signed a six-year, $30.25 million contract prior to the 2010 season. Now, he says they've advised him to mix it back in. When told that Chapman wanted to be a starter this season, Baker said: "That's good." But it all depends on the need. If healthy, the Reds already have five quality starters and the bullpen is stacked with the addition of left-hander Sean Marshall in a trade with the Cubs to fill an essential setup role. Right now, all Baker is seeking in Chapman is steady improvement. "There's nothing I'm really looking at except a progression of quality performances," Baker said. "A lot of it depends on the health of the rest of the starting pitchers. Last year at this time it would have been a moot point, we'd lost so many guys. We lost Homer Bailey by this time and [Johnny] Cueto shortly after that. We'll just let them play and see how it turns out. Everyone wants definitive answers, but I can't give any right now. Too much can happen between now and the beginning of the season."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.