© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
PHOENIX -- When the Reds signed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million contract in January, the club declared he wouldn't start in the Majors unless he was ready.
However, the question that no one can answer yet is what if he's not ready but still has the best spring among the fifth-starter contenders and belongs on the 25-man roster?
"It's hard to plan an unknown entity," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You don't know what things may arise. He still has to get a driver's license and a Social Security card. There are a lot of things he has to get. I think baseball and pitching are probably a sanctuary from all of the other stuff."
At least the 22-year-old Chapman satisfied one curiosity during his second outing of spring on Friday. He could still get by without having his best stuff, and even while bothered by a cold.
During a 3-2 Reds win over the Dodgers, Chapman allowed two infield hits over two innings and struck out two. He threw 35 pitches, 20 for strikes, and demonstrated less command than he showed in Monday's first outing against the Royals.
"Personally, I felt good," Chapman said with Class A Dayton pitching coach Tony Fossas interpreting. "I just missed a couple of pitches out of the zone. I was trying to put them in a place, but they went the other way."
Chapman, who entered out of the bullpen in the bottom of the fifth inning, reached three-ball counts four times and was missing often with both his fastball and slider. He showed mild frustration when his pitches weren't locating.
"I was not finishing up my pitches very well with the slider," Chapman said. "That's why I was not happy with it."
2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball
News & Features
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
In his first inning, Chapman was in the 93-98-mph range, according to scouts' radar readings. After getting a quick first out on a foul popup, Chapman went 3-0 to Ivan DeJesus and got a full count before he reached on an infield single. The next batter, Rafael Furcal, also reached on an infield single but a pinch-runner was picked off by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Brad Ausmus popped out to end the inning.
"I definitely don't want to see anybody on base," said Chapman. "But when there is someone on base, my concentration level rises up because I don't want to make a mistake."
Chapman had a much smoother 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth against three of the Dodgers' better hitters. Andre Ethier fouled out behind third base on an 0-1 pitch. Matt Kemp was started with a 100-mph fastball for strike one and also saw pitch speeds of 99 and 97 in the at-bat. On a 2-2 count following multiple foul balls, Kemp swung and missed at a 90-mph changeup.
Imagine what a 90-mph changeup looks like after seeing at or near 100-mph fastballs?
"Speed differential is the key," Baker said.
"It's like [Red Sox righty Josh] Beckett, who gets to 89-90," catcher Ramon Hernandez said of the changeup. "Sometimes maybe he gets a bad grip and it comes out a little hard because he's a power pitcher. Sometimes he gets a good grip and maybe he throws a little less. As long as he moves it down and it has a little depth to it, that's fine."
Chapman's final batter, Casey Blake, looked at a called strike three on an 83-mph changeup.
"He had to keep them off his fastball," Baker said. "He was throwing it at different times in the count. We just have to keep him in the zone. He got some pretty good hitters out today, too. It's early. He's getting better. Even though they're not in tip-top form, neither is he."
Through two outings, Chapman has allowed three hits over four scoreless innings with one walk and five strikeouts.
With camp more than halfway complete, the great mystery of whether Chapman will work from the mound in Cincinnati come April remains far from its climax. He is competing for the Reds' fifth-starter spot against Justin Lehr, Matt Maloney and Micah Owings, to name a few.
"I've only seen him four innings. There is a long way to go," Hernandez said. "If he's not ready, he's close."
At the Major League level, the Reds have a heavy Spanish-speaking influence for Chapman -- including Baker, pitching coach Bryan Price and Hernandez -- that would benefit Chapman's adjustment to American life. If Chapman were to begin at Triple-A Louisville, it's possible that a fellow Cuban will be there in first baseman Yonder Alonso and Spanish-speaking catcher Wilkin Castillo (Dominican Republic).
Language and communication, to Baker, shouldn't loom large in the decision of where Chapman begins his career.
"Who spoke to [Hideo] Nomo? Nobody out there could speak Japanese to Nomo," Baker said. "He did pretty good. There are certain things in baseball, and sports period, where you don't need to know the language. The game is the same.
"Imagine how hard it was on [first Japanese Major League player] Masinori Murakami. He had nobody. I think it's a lot easier on [Chapman] now than it was for guys before him."
One thing that appears certain is that Chapman won't be taking Fossas with him to his next step. The coach, who also serves as the pitcher's so-called guardian, will return to his regular duties when the season starts.
"Sooner or later, we're going to have to wean him off of Fossas," Baker said. "We have a lot of Latin guys here to help, big time, to keep things in perspective and help him through it."
Reminiscent of former Dodgers teammate and young lefty Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, Baker realizes that "Chapman Mania" is brewing as the season gets closer and that everyone wants to see the hard-throwing young lefty. That, too, doesn't appear to play a part in this situation.
"I understand it, but I don't have to adhere to it," Baker said.