Aroldis Chapman no longer throws the unhittable 106 mile-per-hour fastball for the Cincinnati Reds. Now, he’s around 99 MPH with his fastball, a sick 88 with his slider, and these days even more difficult for National League batters to hit.
Chapman, a 24-year-old Cuban refugee who fled the Communist country while his country’s national baseball team was playing in the Netherlands a couple of years ago, is being brought along slowly — some think too slowly — by the Reds, who won the right to sign him and gave him a six-year, $30 million contract.
Young pitchers who command that kind of dough are usually either stars of the starting rotation, or a key closer. In Chapman, the Reds have what may be the best eighth-inning setup man in baseball history. Eighth-inning setup men usually earn salaries similar to backup infielders.
But what a gem the Reds have in Chapman: Through May 20, the left-hander had pitched 22 innings over 18 games for the Reds, and allowed only seven hits — fewer than one every three innings. Strikeouts? 39, nearly two per inning. Walks? A mere seven. His earned-run average (0.00) is easy to compute, since he has yet to allow one, but he’s doing it without throwing the ridiculous heat for which he was famous as a rookie.
A recent story on si.com said the Reds are working “to perfect his slider and his sinking, two-seam fastball.”
The online article said the Reds still aren’t sure how to handle him. “He will be a starter,’’ Reds manager Dusty Baker told si.com.
Reds’ fans are asking ‘when?’
Last year, Chapman pitched a mere 50 innings, giving up 24 hits, or one every other inning. This year, his one-hit-every-three-inning performance is a testament to his improvement. Maybe the Reds will move him into the starting rotation when his hits-to-innings-pitched ratio falls to one in five or six.
It’s understandable that the Reds don’t want to rush things. Chapman has the potential to be one of the best ever but the Reds, who have the talent to be a playoff contender, are meandering along around .500 and could use an ace like Chapman to become their stud starter.
Fans in Cincinnati and around North America can’t wait for the Cuban to be unleashed.
• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Stunt woman Jolene Van Vugt of London, Ont., broke a world land speed record when she clocked 46 mph in Sydney, Australia — on a motorized toilet. Canadians are reportedly so flush with pride they can’t keep a lid on it.”
• R.J. Currie of sportsdeke.com, on the sam subject: “Canadian Jolene Van Vugt set a speed record in Australia by driving 74 kph on a motorized toilet. The lady isn’t kidding when she says she’s really gotta go.”
• Perry again: “Pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin, the Seahawks’ No. 1 draft pick, agreed to a four-year, $9.3 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus. In keeping with the theme, he asked for all his cash in sacks.”
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “I’ve always wanted to be able to play golf like Tiger Woods, and now I can. He’s awful.”
• Comedy writer Jim Barach: “Shaquille O’Neal has earned a Ph.D. in education from Barry University. He earned the degree in four and a half years. He would have gotten it sooner but part of his doctoral thesis included having to shoot 10 free throws and make five.”
• Rick Reilly, ESPN.com: “So what did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell think New Orleans Saints football players would do when their leaders put in a bounty program for quarterbacks’ heads? Did he expect the Saints players to raise their hands and say, ‘You know what, Coach? I’m out. But good luck with that!’ “
• Comedy writer Jerry Perisho: “Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh is out indefinitely with a strained abdominal muscle. Once again, we couch potatoes see the benefit to having no abdominal muscles.”
• A groaner from R.J. Currie: “Reuters reports an elephant in the Washington, DC, zoo has taken up playing the harmonica. Zookeepers nicknamed her CFL because she plays for peanuts.”
• Currie again: “Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he’s never mastered ‘the season-ending speech’ after a playoff loss. If he needs some pointers, maybe he should give the Sharks a call.”
• Another one from Perry: “If quarterback Drew Brees’ contract impasse turns into a holdout, at least the Saints’ storyline has gone from bounty to mutiny.”
• Budd Bailey of the Buffalo (N.Y.) News, after more than 400 Spanish soccer fans missed their team’s match in Bucharest because they mistakenly went to Budapest: “Next up for the confused group: A trip to Madison Square Garden in New York to see Josh Hamilton and the Rangers.”
• Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle: “Two jurors in the trial of Roger Clemens were dismissed for falling asleep during testimony. Why couldn’t Brian McNamee give the jurors a little shot to pep ‘em up?”