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Yankees' Aroldis Chapman is 'where I want to be' for start of wild card series

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman went 1-1 with a

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman went 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA, and three saves in 11 2/3 innings this season. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Aroldis Chapman hopes to be smiling because of a job well done at the end of this Yankees postseason.

In 2019, Chapman flashed an odd grin after Jose Altuve of the Astros ended the Yankees’ season with a home run in Game 6 of the ALCS.

Chapman still will get the ball with the game on the line at the end for the Yankees this postseason. And that’s the way he wants it.

"There’s always a lot of motivation to do my job,’’ Chapman said on Monday through an interpreter as the Yankees prepared to open their wild-card series in Cleveland on Tuesday night. "Whatever happened in the past, keep it there. We have to focus on what we have in front of us. That has to be the major focus for us."

Chapman’s focus entering the shortened 2020 season was to get healthy and in game shape after he tested positive for COVID-19. Chapman didn’t make his season debut until Aug. 17, and he didn’t find his groove right away.

But Chapman didn’t allow a run in his last eight appearances. Overall, he appeared in 13 games, throwing 11 2/3 innings, and went 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA. Chapman saved three games, had two blown saves and struck out 22.

"I’m very happy with how I feel right now,’’ he said. "I’m healthy and my command has been there the last couple outings. In general, I feel I’m where I want to be."

Chapman’s fastball velocity has fluctuated, especially when he has pitched on consecutive days. It’s something to watch as the postseason progresses. If the Yankees make it to the ALDS and/or ALCS, those series will be played without scheduled off days.

That could be why Chapman has started throwing a splitter to go along with his fastball and slider.

"The pitch was there for a long time,’’ Chapman said. "It’s just that I never used it in a game. The last couple of games, I had a good opportunity to use it and I did."

Chapman will have plenty of bodies next to him in the bullpen as the Yankees announced a 13-man pitching staff for the best-of-three series.

Zack Britton, Chad Green and Adam Ottavino will be manager Aaron Boone’s top choices out of the pen to get to Chapman. Ottavino has struggled this season (5.89 ERA), although he has allowed only one earned run in seven appearances since giving up six runs without getting an out on Sept. 7 vs. the Blue Jays in Buffalo.

The rest of the relievers: righthanders Luis Cessa, Jonathan Holder, Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson, lefthander Jordan Montgomery, and either righthander Deivi Garcia or lefthander J.A. Happ (whichever one isn’t tapped to start a potential Game 3).

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