Aroldis Chapman sat in front of the media inside Yankee Stadium on Sunday, and his two necklaces, earrings and watch sparkled as he spoke. Beginning Monday night, his sparkling triple-digit fastball is eligible to go on display.
After participating in extended spring games in Florida during his 30-game suspension (reduced to 29 games by a rainout) for an alleged domestic-violence incident, the 28-year-old lefthander from Cuba is thrilled that Yankees manager Joe Girardi is handing him the keys to close right from the start.
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“First of all, I just want to say that I’m super-excited and happy that the manager has given me that vote of confidence in letting me be the closer,” Chapman said via an interpreter. “At the same time, I’m very humbled by [Dellin] Betances and [Andrew] Miller. They’re moving down in the order to allow me to pitch the ninth.”
Entering Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox, Miller hadn’t yielded a run and had struck out 20 in 11 2⁄3 innings, picking up saves in all six of his opportunities after going 36-for-38 last year. Girardi said Miller is “a team player.”
“What do you want me to do? You want me to throw a fit?” Miller asked. “The goal here is to win . . . It would be hard to argue that [Chapman’s] not making us better.”
Chapman arrived in a December trade after saving 145 games in the previous four seasons with the Reds. Although he was suspended, he wasn’t charged with a crime and has maintained that he did nothing wrong. Without being specific, he said he “learned a lot.” He talked about Latin players being vulnerable but said that had nothing to do with MLB or the suspension.
“As a Latin player, when we come to this country, we don’t know the language; we don’t know the laws,” he said. “Sometimes we can become a target by people who are really trying to take advantage of us or get us in a bad situation . . . ”
Chapman also expressed pride over recently becoming a United States citizen. “This is the country that has given me such a unique opportunity,” he said.
The Yankees are salivating over the opportunity to have Betances and Miller set up and Chapman finish.
“I’m sure not a lot of hitters want to face [those] three in a row,” said Ivan Nova, who will start against Kansas City on Monday night at Yankee Stadium. “So it’s going to be huge for us.”
Or as Chapman said, “We have a chance to be maybe the best bullpen in baseball.”