BOSTON — Look who is being used in high-leverage situations again.
And who again could get opportunities in the highest of high-leverage scenarios.
Aroldis Chapman, a closer the entirety of his big-league career before losing that job to Clay Holmes earlier this season, very well could find himself back in that mix.
After Holmes blew yet another save in Friday night’s 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Aaron Boone didn’t rule out Chapman getting another crack at the job in the coming days and/or weeks.
“We’ll see,” he said. “He was used in a high-leverage situation tonight, so he’s going to continue to be in those. He’s throwing the ball incredibly well. Love what we’re seeing there and we’ll keep building on that and see where it leads. But we continue to be really encouraged from what we’re seeing from Aroldis.”
Chapman, replaced by Holmes as the closer even before he landed on the injured list from May 24-June 30 with left Achilles tendinitis, has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances, giving up three hits and one walk in 9 1/3 innings. That includes Friday night, when he struck out two in a perfect eighth inning to keep a 2-1 lead intact, and Saturday night, when he pitched 1 1/3 innings and got the win in the Yankees' 3-2 victory.
“He’s been locating his pitches well, attacking hitters, putting the pressure on them,” Aaron Judge said of Chapman, who struck out Tommy Pham looking at a 100-mph fastball to end the eighth Friday. “And when you do that with the type of stuff he has, running it up to 100 [mph], you’re going to get good results.”
Judge referenced what Boone and Chapman have said in recent weeks regarding the biggest factor in the pitcher’s resurgence — aggressive use of and confidence in what has always been his go-to pitch: the fastball.
“Thank God for that,” Chapman said recently through his interpreter. “It [the fastball] has been much better. I’ve been able to spot it and use it more often.”
Chapman added a quality slider to his repertoire about seven years ago and began to incorporate a splitter into the mix two seasons ago. More than a few rival scouts — as well as plenty inside the Yankees' organization — think Chapman’s primary issue this year was getting away from his fastball and overly relying on his secondary pitches. Those pitches in and of themselves are just fine, but not in the same league as his fastball when he’s throwing it with confidence.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Judge said of Chapman’s fastball use. “When you have the type of stuff he has and you’re getting into 0-1, 0-2 counts instead of 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 counts and letting hitters maybe gear up for a heater in certain counts, you’re kind of keeping them off-balance with 0-1, 0-2 counts. You’re going to have better results. It’s been fun to see so far. If we can get him back to doing what he normally does, we’re going to be in a good spot down the road.”
Chapman’s rise has coincided with Holmes’ biggest slump of the season. Friday made it four of his last five outings in which he has allowed at least one run, with the righthander’s ERA now at 2.39 in 49 games (it was at 0.46 on July 9).
Command was an issue for Holmes when the Yankees obtained him from the Pirates at the 2021 deadline, but that had not been a problem for him since his arrival. But it has been of late, with Holmes issuing 11 walks in 11 innings in his last 12 games.
For that reason, Boone was noncommittal when asked late Friday if he can continue going solely with Holmes as the closer.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Try to get him in the best positions to be successful. Some nights that’ll be the ninth, some nights that will be other [situations]. But we’ll keep working with him. We’ve got to get him right and consistent.”