Though the Indians’ bullpen woes have been felt this season, their struggles after losing key, relief pitchers during the off-season pale in comparison to the loss suffered by the Cincinnati Reds during Spring Training. Their two-time All Star closer, left-hander Aroldis Chapman, has been off the field since the night of March 19 when, during a game against the Kansas City Royals, a line drive off the bat of Salvador Perez hit Chapman in the face.
Chapman immediately went down following the hit and was rushed from the game to the Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center, where a titanium plate was inserted above his left eye to stabilize the facial fractures he suffered from the impact of the hit.
For Chapman, the 26 year-old pitcher who clocked the fastest MLB pitch time at 106 mph, it is amazing that the injuries he suffered and sustained were not worse. His recovery has been so smooth and impressive that, a mere six weeks from the dire incident, he was already back on the mound in the Reds’ minor league system and beginning his rehabilitation outings.
Chapman threw his first rehab outing with the Dayton Dragons on Thursday, May 1, against the Lansing Lugnuts. He threw as high as 101 mph during the appearance, and his very first pitch of the game registered at 99 mph.
The Reds chose to place Chapman on the 15-day disabled list rather than the 60-day disabled list, a decision which speaks to Chapman’s ability to bounce back both physically and mentally following the injury.
Chapman made his second rehab appearance with the Dragons here in Cleveland, when he opened the game for Dayton against the Lake County Captains on Saturday, May 3. Chapman faced four batters and registered throwing as fast as 96 mph. He pitched a scoreless and hitless inning, walking Dorssys Paulino and striking out Clint Frazier. The Captains managed to overcome Chapman’s appearance, though, and went on to win the game 8-6.
Following his outing, Chapman, through interpreter and trainer Tomas Veras, said he felt good on the mound.
“I feel like it went really, really well today,” Chapman said. “All my pitches were where I wanted; the command was there. I feel good, I feel back to normal.”
Chapman said that the Reds are in charge of deciding when he reappears at the Major League level, though they suggested that he would make about four rehab appearances before any decision is made.
Returning to the big leagues will not only be rewarding for Chapman personally, but will also perpetuate the rise of Cuban baseball players in the system. Chapman is a native Cuban who defected four years ago.
“You’ve always had Cuban players in the league,” Chapman said. “Now, we have a large amount of youth baseball players who are coming out and playing the game and we are showing them that we can do the job. All we want – and all we do – is just play baseball. We want to show everybody that we can play the game and we can play here. We just come here to play baseball.”
“I don’t think anything like that,” Chapman said when asked if pitching in a facility like Classic Park makes him appreciate his Major League home and amenities more. “I am just here because I have to do a job and recuperate myself and be back to what I do. I really don’t think about what’s good or what’s bad.”
And if anyone can judge the good or bad of a situation, it would be Chapman. He has dealt with the worst and knows just how bad it can be. Now, he’s ready to focus on the good. With potentially two more rehab outings to go, the door to the big leagues may soon be opening again for the flame-throwing pitcher to resume his role with Reds.
Despite the terrifying nature of his injury, Chapman is not letting fear into his mind as he returns to pitching.
“No, there is not [any fear],” Chapman said, then reiterated the phrase he has likely been waiting to say since that March 19 pitch and hit: “I feel good.”
Photo: Nick Falzerano/MiLB.com