A dominant bullpen has been a strength of the Cincinnati Reds all season. But the team received a scare this week when closer Aroldis Chapman, in the midst of one of the great seasons ever turned in by a relief pitcher, had to be shelved for a few days after consecutive rough outings and an alarming decline in velocity.
To be fair, Chapman has speed to spare. He is consistently around 98 mph with his fastball, can top 100 on isolated pitches and uses that as a weapon to unleash a fabulous slider that leaves batters weak in the knees. But the team is still concerned after he gave up four hits and three runs, all on a three-run homer, to Houston on Friday in a 5-3 loss and then walked three batters in the 10th inning of a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh on Monday.
After the Pirates games, Reds manager Dusty Baker told reporters that Chapman has some shoulder fatigue and will rest for a few days. Chapman had converted a club-record 27 saves in a row. His ERA was 1.23. He had allowed one run total since June 24. Now, the 24-year-old Cuban is a concern with the playoffs looming just three weeks away.
Of course, Cincinnati has plenty of depth in its bullpen to get by for a few days, if that's all Chapman's arm requires. The Reds entered play Tuesday leading the majors with a 2.67 bullpen ERA. Tampa Bay is second (2.78) and only two other teams (Oakland, Atlanta) were under 3.00. It helps that they also had a 9 ? game lead over second-place St. Louis in the National League Central with only three head-to-head games remaining against the Cardinals.
- Brian McNally