Aroldis Chapman was impressive: but not in the way I expected

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Aroldis Chapman and the Louisville Bats rolled into beautiful downtown Columbus, Ohio last night. I couldn’t miss that so I called my friend Mark — a big Reds fan — and headed on down to the park to catch the game. We got through the gate and, being consummate professionals, used every trick in the book to move up from our assigned seats to a choice location right behind home plate. 

After his last outing in which he was clocked at 103 m.p.h. I fully expected to be dazzled by Chapman’s fastball.  I was in for a bit of a surprise.

Not that he disappointed in the early going. Chapman had some serious heat in the first couple of innings, hitting 99 and 98 a few times in the first and uncorking one pitch at 100 m.p.h. in the second. It was a crazy atmosphere in the park too, with almost no one actually watching the ball being caught after it crossed the plate — all eyes were on the radar readouts down the first and third base lines.  When he hit 100 the crowd let out a collective “whoa!”

But then a funny thing happened: Chapman slowed down.  Indeed, for the rest of the game he was consistently at 93-94 m.p.h., only rarely ticking it up any higher.  When his velocity first declined Mark and I wondered if something was wrong with him. But then it became apparent: Chapman wasn’t throwing. He was pitching.

Starting in the third inning Chapman went to work with his offspeed stuff.  And it worked.  Clippers’ batters were obviously amped for the gas, and I can’t recall seeing guys so far out in front of pitches as these guys were.  Chapman occasionally got too enamored with his changeup — at one point he threw a few too many in a row which, thankfully for him, only led to loud outs — but overall he was masterful.

When it was all said and done Chapman had thrown seven innings, allowing two runs and four hits. He walked three and struck out five on 88 pitches.  The bullpen blew the game for him so he didn’t get the win, but it was a strong performance.

The biggest question I had leaving the park was how much of last night’s outing was a function of Chapman making a conscious effort to mix it up and to be efficient and how much of it was a function of him just not having his best gas?  That’s not my problem, I suppose. For my part I’ll just note that it was nice to see Chapman — who some Reds fans are clamoring to come up and help plug holes in the bullpen — come out and give a mature and complete performance.

A few more of those and he’ll be doing it in Cincinnati.

Yankees sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees have signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, pending a physical. Assuming the deal is finalized, Sherman notes that the Yankees will have Niese work as both a starter and a reliever in big league camp this spring.

According to Sherman, the Yankees were interested in lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, but didn’t want to commit at their asking prices. They are looking for a lefty set-up man along with Tommy Lane.

Niese, 30, pitched for the Pirates and Mets last season, finishing with a 5.50 ERA and an 88/47 K/BB ratio over 121 innings.

Tigers to give Omar Infante some work in center field this spring

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Omar Infante #4 of the Detroit Tigers follows through on an RBI single scoring Prince Fielder #28 during the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field  on September 11, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
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Veteran Omar Infante has spent the overwhelming majority of his career as an infielder, but the Tigers plan to give him some playing time in center field this spring. The Tigers’ center field situation is still murky and adding more versatility would increase Infante’s odds of making the roster.

Infante, 35, signed a minor league deal with the Tigers in December. He played 39 games for the Royals last season, batting .239/.279/.321 in 149 plate appearances while playing second base exclusively. Infante last played in the outfield in 2010 with the Braves, and last played center field specifically in ’09 with the Braves.

The Tigers currently have Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Collins, and JaCoby Jones at the top of their center field depth chart. It is not what one would call “optimal.”