Almost from the day they signed him as a hotshot prospect out of Cuba, the debate has raged over whether the Cincinnati Reds would be best served to use Aroldis Chapman as a starter or as a closer. It became apparent early on that the Reds themselves were undecided on the question, too, as they have been unable to resist tinkering with Chapman for any period of time since they lured him to the Queen City in January of 2010. After a dominating start to his closer run in 2012, Chapman has hit some choppy waters this month and is starting to draw some criticism from scruffy manager Dusty Baker. I say the Reds should take this opportunity to finally put Chapman into their rotation and leave him there until either his arm falls off or he pitches himself out of the gig. The time for experimentation is long over.
From the beginning of Chapman's tenure with the organization, he has been spotted in various bullpen roles, first to get him acclimated to the rigors of professional American baseball, then to help prepare him for starting and, finally, to take over the closer role when free agent signee Ryan Madson went down with a blown elbow this spring. But Chapman is 24 years old now and that is really not all that young in baseball terms, so it's time for he and the Reds to decide on what his future will look like. In making that decision, can they really justify having a guy with this kind of talent pitch less than 100 innings per year without at least trying him out in the rotation for a goodly period of time? It seems like an untenable position to me, and his recent blowups, along with Dusty's commentary, show us why that is.
As a ninth-inning-only pitcher, Chapman is expected to come in and blow away every hitter he faces, regardless of what the Reds might say to the contrary. Even if they really do want him to be crafty, as opposed to just burning down the batter's box, it has to be difficult for Chapman to throttle himself when he knows he'll only be out there for a short time. That 100-mile-an-hour heater is always at the ready, after all, and Chapman knows it. The problem is that hitters do, too, and can cheat a little to catch up to it. And to hit it really, really far.
As a starter, Chapman could mix in that delicious slider of his and continue working on the change-up that surprised the baseball world a couple of years ago. In fact, he would almost have to mix things up, because no one can throw 100 mph for seven or eight innings unless he's Nolan Ryan or a reasonable facsimile. Who knows? In time, Chapman might eventually develop the endurance to air it out for a prolonged period of time, but he'll never get that chance if he continues his bullpen sojourn.
And we'll never get the chance to see just how good he might have become. The time is now for Chapman to start.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since the early 1980s, when gods like Dan Driessen and Cesar Cedeno roamed the ethereally green Riverfront turf. He thinks that Dusty Baker is the anti-Davey.