By Josh Cook
In a somewhat surprising move Aroldis Chapman came out of the Louisville Bats' bullpen on Wednesday.
It may not be the last time we see the flame-throwing left-hander in that role. In fact it might be the beginning of a new career path.
The highly-touted, and highly-paid, pitching prospect for the Cincinnati Reds pitched two innings of relief in the Bats' 7-4 win over the Toledo Mud Hens at Louisville Slugger Field on Wednesday afternoon. The 22-year-old Cuban defector, who signed a $30-million contract with the Reds in January, gave up two hits and one earned run, while walking one and striking out three in the seventh and eighth innings. Chapman was credited with a hold as he helped preserve the victory for starter Edinson Volquez, who is on a rehabilitation assignment.
"We may look at that," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told MLB.com today about the possibility of Chapman making the move from starter to reliever. "If Volquez comes back and (Homer) Bailey isn't far away, the best opportunity (for Chapman) will be out of the bullpen. But we could still possibly use him as a starter."
Starting pitching has been one of the reasons why the Reds are in the thick of the National League Central race (they are currently one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals) this season. Bronson Arroyo (7-3), Johnny Cueto (7-2), Mike Leake (5-1) and Aaron Harang (5-7) have been a solid foursome for Cincinnati.
Bailey (1-2) was the fifth starter before he went on the disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder, which prompted the promotion of Sam LeCure (1-4) from Louisville. With Volquez looking good in his return from Tommy John surgery, he gave up three hits and one earned run in five innings Wednesday, and looking to return to the Reds' starting rotation the bullpen could indeed be the place for Chapman.
Chapman's velocity, he was clocked throwing over 90 miles per hour Wednesday and hit 103 at Slugger Field this season, certainly makes him relief material, but he has struggled with his control, especially of late.
Chapman started off strong as a starter with the Bats, going 5-2 over April and May, but he has struggled in June. He lost three straight starts, including a disastrous two-inning outing against Pawtucket on June 7, before coming out of the bullpen Wednesday. In 13 starts and one relief appearance this season Chapman has a 5-5 record with a 4.12 earned-run average. In 67 2/3 innings he has allowed 62 hits, 36 runs (31 earned), while walking 41 and striking out 79.
And while Wednesday's two-inning appearance may have been nothing more than a confidence builder for a pitcher who has struggled with his command recently, it could also be a sign of things to come for Chapman.