Something had to give eventually.
No one as good as Aroldis Chapman -- or as high-paid -- remains as a set-up man out of the bullpen for long. Chapman was either destined for a spot in the starting rotation (which was my guess) or the closer's role.
Well, 28 months after the Cuban defector signed with the Reds, we have our answer, at least for now: Chapman will be Cincinnati's closer.
The 6-foot-4, 196-pound flamethrower picked up his first save of the season (also had one last year) in the Reds' 5-2 win over the host New York Yankees on Sunday. That victory pushed the Reds' record to 21-19 at roughly the one-quarter mark of the season, and they now trail the St. Louis Cardinals (22-19) by just 0.5 games for first-place in the NL Central. The fact that the Reds went on a tough road trip that included two games against the Braves, two against the Mets and three against the Yankees -- and emerged with a 5-4 record, including a series win over the Bronx Bombers -- was impressive.
Anyway, let's not get away from the news of the week here. Chapman as a closer is going to be fun to watch. There will be nervous moments as he's sure to have a few off nights where he struggles with control. However, thus far this season, Chapman has showcased surprisingly-great command. He's walked just seven in 22.1 innings. That would be solid for any pitcher. But when it's someone who also has 39 strikeouts and has only given up seven hits and zero earned runs (one unearned run), it becomes amazing.
Chapman is already the third pitcher to be slotted as the Reds' closer this season. Ryan Madson was signed as a free agent to lock down the role. However, Tommy John surgery during spring training ended that idea quickly. Then left-handed set-up specialist Sean Marshall was forced into the role. I firmly believe Marshall is an outstanding reliever (not good, but outstanding), however, he's not a closer. He wasn't horrible in that role with seven saves in eight attempts, but two other times he had to be bailed out in the ninth inning (by Logan Ondrusek and Jose Arredondo, respectively). So, in all actuality, Marshall was 7-of-10 in save situations.
Therefore, the decision was made while in New York to make the change to Chapman and I think it was the right move. There's no question it's going to be interesting to see how he performs in the role. If he's able to solidify it, the Reds will have one of the best bullpens in baseball all season with Marshall and Ondrusek as top-shelf set-up men, Arredondo looking good as a mid/late-inning guy, landing JJ Hoover from the Braves in exchange for Juan Francisco appears to have been a shrewd move and Sam LeCure is a nice guy to have in the long-reliever role.
Heisey close to locking down LF job?
It's kind of odd to say this the day after Chris Heisey went 0-for-5 and Ryan Ludwick was 3-for-5 with a home run, but I have the feeling Heisey is somewhat on the verge of being the Reds' "everyday" left fielder. I put quotes around everyday because obviously Ludwick is still going to get his share of playing time, especially before the All-Star break. He still has some pop in his bat and the team is paying him $3 million during his one-year deal. For the season, Ludwick is batting .207 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. He's had 87 at-bats and is sporting an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of .687.
By comparison, Heisey is batting .255 with no homers (after smacking 18 last year in just 279 ABs) and seven RBIs. In 94 at-bats, he has an OPS of .662 (far from his .797 of last year).
So, looking at the numbers, we're still likely to see a platoon situation in left with Heisey and Ludwick for a while. However, Heisey seems to be turning it on to some extent and my money is on him to be the starter eventually. Then again, if both Heisey and Ludwick step it up and play well, a platoon situation wouldn't be a bad thing for this team. I just have the feeling Heisey is about to seperate himself and earn the majority of playing time.
Johnny be bueno
Calling Johnny Cueto "good" doesn't even come close to doing him justice. The 26-year-old right-hander is now 5-1 on the season with a 1.96 ERA. In nine starts, he's pitched 59 innings, given up 55 hits, walked just 12 and struck out 38. As one can tell by his K numbers (which are good but by no means great) Cueto doesn't blow hitters away. He has a good fastball that sits consistently at 93-94 MPH, but no one is going to confuse him with Chapman's heat. However, Cueto has tremendous command and almost every pitch in his arsenal has good movement.
The native of the Dominican Republic is absolutely the Reds' ace. Any questions of whether he could develop into that role have been quickly erased. Actually, with the exception of Mike Leake, the entire starting rotation has been solid this season. How about Homer Bailey going into Yankee Stadium and emerging victorious? And Leake will get a chance to start to turn his year around when he pitches at home against the Braves tonight.
Something had to give eventually.