TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Judge isn’t the only Yankee with recent shoulder issues who will be brought along at a deliberate pace in spring training.
Aroldis Chapman had an up-and-down 2017, a season that included a stint on the disabled list for left shoulder inflammation and a temporary demotion from the closer’s role. He likely will debut in a Grapefruit League game after many of his fellow relievers do.
“He pitched late into last season again,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Thursday, “so early on you just want to take him through the paces and make sure his arm’s ready for the later games of spring training to get geared up for the regular season. It might be a few less (innings) just because we’re going to start a little bit later.’’
The Yankees’ run to Game 7 of the ALCS meant two straight years in which Chapman pitched deep into October. More than a few speculated that his difficulties last season were a carryover from the 2016 postseason with the Cubs. He threw 15 2⁄3 innings in 13 games, including a combined 5 1⁄3 in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series against the Indians.
Rothschild said the Yankees also took things slowly with Chapman in Florida last year, a precedent for monitoring the workload again, at least in the early part of spring training.
Chapman wouldn’t use 2016 as an alibi for last season.
“I couldn’t blame that,” he said through his translator. “I had a little fatigue in the shoulder, but at the end I was able to get back to being myself.”
After four straight poor outings, Chapman lost the closer’s job Aug. 20. He earned the spot back, recording a save Sept. 9 in Arlington against the Rangers, the start of nine-game stretch to end the regular season in which Chapman did not allow a run and struck out 13 in 10 innings. He posted 22 saves with a 3.22 ERA in 52 games.
“Definitely don’t want to go through the same rough patch I went through last year,” Chapman said. “You want to prevent that from happening.”
And to try to prevent it, Chapman said that over the winter he “worked a lot on my shoulder and my arm. I wanted to become stronger and have more stamina to prevent the injuries and fatigue toward the end of the year. I worked really hard in the offseason to make sure my shoulder is stronger and healthier.”
Like just about everyone else in the clubhouse, Chapman said the ALCS loss to the Astros is a motivating factor.
“The expectation from us is to keep going further,” he said. “The key is to work, though. Work really hard. Focus on what you can accomplish this season and definitely go beyond last season and get to the World Series and hopefully win it all.”
Chapman, who turns 30 Feb. 28, should be part of what again is shaping up as one of the best bullpens in baseball. It doesn’t seem to have all that many openings with Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Chasen Shreve, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Adam Warren.
“It feels fairly set,” Aaron Boone said, with the caveat being that everyone must stay healthy in Florida. “We’re about trying to create competition to get guys in positions so if somebody does go down, guys are prepared to take a significant role to keep our bullpen incredibly strong.”