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.

The Giants are considering Pablo Sandoval at second base

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Pablo Sandoval could be tabbed to play second base in the near future, per a report from John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. According to Shea, Sandoval has been spotted taking grounders at second during pre-game warm-ups and may be considering switching to the keystone on a part-time basis.

It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing the 31-year-old corner infielder has done this year — that distinction goes to the flawless inning of relief he pitched in a blowout loss against the Dodgers last month. But it would represent a pretty notable departure from his comfort zone even so; Sandoval has primarily manned first and third base throughout his 11-year career in the majors and has also taken a few reps at DH during his resurgence with the Giants in 2018.

Of course, this wouldn’t necessarily be a permanent switch for Sandoval. As Shea points out, the Giants are thin on middle infielders after losing Joe Panik to a torn UCL in his left thumb and backup Alen Hanson to a left hamstring strain. Provided he can get up to speed quickly (no easy feat, according to infield coach Ron Wotus), he’d give the club some added depth behind Kelby Tomlinson and Miguel Gomez until Panik is ready to take the field again. Sandoval has impressed at the plate this spring, batting a healthy .270/.329/.429 with six extra-base hits and a .757 through 70 plate appearances.