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What’s Wrong With Aroldis Chapman?



Aroldis Chapman, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Aroldis Chapman’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates began as anyone who is familiar with the veteran relief ace would have expected.

The Pirates ponied up $10.5 million to sign Chapman as a free agent in the offseason and it looked like money well spent through the first two weeks of the season.

Chapman began the year with seven-straight scoreless appearances. Over that stretch, the flamethrower didn’t allow a hit and struck out nine batters.

What Chapman has shown lately doesn’t resemble the same pitcher from the infancy stage of the season.

Over his next four appearances, Chapman allowed six runs (four earned) while recording six outs. He still was striking guys out (six punch outs) but his completely lost his command. With a pair of innings in the books, Chapman had issued seven free passes.

The control issues were at the forefront of the left-hander’s appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night. Chapman struck out the first man he faced before walking three-straight batters. The final nine pitches he threw were outside of the zone.

“It looks like he’s just moving a little fast,” manager Derek Shelton said following that game. “This guy is a veteran, he’s done it. It looks like he is rushing his delivery. He got Weimer out to start the inning and it’s like he went back to get more and we know he doesn’t have to go back to get more. It’s just slowing him down a little bit.”

After back-to-back days off for the 36-year-old, Chapman returned to the mound for the Pirates against the Brewers on Thursday afternoon.

When Chapman entered the game in the eighth inning, the Pirates held a 6-5 lead and were six outs away from a series victory over their division rivals.

Blake Perkins opened the inning with an infield single to third base. Chapman then proceeded to retire Joey Ortiz and struck out Joey Wiemer.

Sal Frelick, the Brewers’ leadoff hitter, was the next batter due up, but manager Pat Murphy opted for a pinch-hitter. The substitute he called upon was veteran catcher and Chapman’s long-time battery mate Gary Sánchez.

Chapman jumped ahead 0-2 on two sinkers and a four-seam fastball to open the at-bat — a strike looking, a swing and a miss and then a foul ball. Chapman again went to the fastball, but this time, Sánchez connected.

The pitch wasn’t necessarily in a bad spot, in fact, it was off the plate away. However, Chapman had been working Sánchez away all at-bat and went to the well one too many times. Sánchez flipped a one-run deficit into a one-run Brewers’ lead.

“It was a fastball and I think it probably shouldn’t have been a fastball … It was 102 and I don’t even think it was a strike,” said Shelton. “But we’re talking (about a) veteran hitter and a guy that’s caught this guy for five or six years so I think he probably had a good idea he was gonna go to it. Overall, I just think we had too many fastballs.”

Perhaps more so than anything, Sánchez’s homer was one to which you just have to tip your cap, even if the fastball wasn’t the right call.

The much more alarming factor for Chapman is his command, or lack thereof. He did show signs of improvement in Thursday’s game with no walks and 18 of his 24 pitches for strikes.

“I feel good,” Chapman said through interpreter and coach Stephen Morales. “Just continue to work and just be cognizant of my work everyday and just try to do my best.”

Chapman will need to continue to show he can harness his control and string together a couple of scoreless appearances. Until that happens, maybe that $10.5 million isn’t money well spent.

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