PITTSBURGH: Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Cincinnati Reds hands the ball to manager Dusty Baker #12 after being pulled from the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
When the Cincinnati Reds signed Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman two years ago and almost immediately made him a relief pitcher, some of us said, "Huh?" Because, you know, relief pitchers don't pitch nearly as many innings as starting pitchers. And Chapman seemed to have the stuff to be a starting pitcher, even with only two pitches. Because those two pitches sure looked incredible.
Since then, Chapman has pitched in 69 games for the Reds, all in relief. But that might change this spring. From John Fay (via Cincinnati.com):
Reds manager Dusty Baker spoke about the pitching plan for Aroldis Chapman this morning. Chapman is preparing as a starter.
"We’re going to stretch him out to see if there’s time," Baker said. "If there’s not time and there’s not quality, you can always back off a guy."
Chapman started the transition in the offseason, but he was shut down with shoulder tightness before a start in the Arizona Fall League. That kept him from going to Winter Ball.
The Reds, with or without Chapman in the rotation, are already a trendy pick to win the National League Central. At the moment, here's how their rotation stacks up (in rough order of talent/health):
Of course, Bailey's a long DL stint waiting to happen and Arroyo's a couple of tater-trots waiting to happen. So it's not like the Reds can't use another starting pitcher. Except the Reds do owe Arroyo a fair chunk of change over the next two seasons (though not as much as it looks like, as a hefty amount is deferred for a while). And Bailey could be really good; while his ERA over the last two seasons is 4.44, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 2.8 and there's probably still a star pitcher in there somewhere.
There's nothing wrong with having six serviceable starting pitchers, especially when two or three of them have been shaky, physically speaking, in recent seasons.
A lot of teams could use six good starters. The only question is whether or not Chapman's capable of becoming one of those valuable beasts. In his brief career he's struck out nearly 13 batters per nine innings, but he's also walked six-and-a-half. As a starter, maybe Chapman could dial things back to, say, 8.5-to-3? That would still be pretty good. Better, actually.
Considering his control issues and his injury history, there's not much reason to think Chapman's going to give the Reds 180 innings this year. But as long as they don't hurt him, the Reds might as well find out for sure.