TAMPA, Fla. — Thursday night’s results for Aroldis Chapman were not particularly relevant. Those from his next spring training outing won’t be, either, nor will those from the one after that or the one after that.
Signed to a five-year, $86-million deal in December to be the Yankees’ closer, barring injury, the lefthander will be exactly that come the regular season.
Joe Girardi was asked before the game what he’d be looking for when Chapman took the mound against the Orioles. “Physically [that he’s fine], mechanics, throwing strikes, that sort of thing,” Girardi said.
Still, when a pitcher who regularly throws 100 mph — and has reached 105 — takes the mound, there is a certain amount of intrigue. Even among his teammates.
“It’s always fun to see somebody just light up the radar gun,” said Thursday night’s starter, Adam Warren, who stuck around in the dugout after his three innings to watch Chapman.
When Chapman trotted out of the bullpen for the fourth, a buzz rippled through the crowd of 7,159 at Steinbrenner Field that watched the Yankees’ 8-1 victory.
Chapman made quick work of the Orioles, striking out the first two batters he faced in a 1-2-3, 16-pitch inning. Although his velocity wasn’t in midseason form, his fastball sat at 97 to 99, with one pitch hitting 100 mph.
But while his fastball velocity typically commands most headlines, it’s the least of Chapman’s concerns at this time of year. “What’s important is the location on the pitches,” he said through a translator afterward. “That’s what I’m really working on, and the different kind of pitches.”
Specifically, a slider and changeup to go along with the fastball. The changeup is a pitch Chapman has been developing in recent years, and Girardi said it gets overshadowed.
“It’s really good,” Girardi said. “You just don’t see a lot of them, but it’s something he’s working on. He does have three pitches.”
Warren said he heard beforehand that Chapman would be working on his changeup during the game. His joking reaction? “I said, ‘I hope his changeup’s not harder than my fastball.’ ”
Said Chapman: “I feel good with it, I feel good about the action that it has right now, but you have to keep working on it and keep improving it.”
Starlin Castro’s time with the Cubs (2010-15) overlapped Chapman’s time with the Reds (2010-15), so he saw the closer quite a bit.
“When I faced him, he didn’t really throw any off-speed [pitches]. It was just fastball, fastball, fastball,” Castro said. “Every year he’s gotten better. Hitters still go up there looking for the fastball, but now he’s got a pretty good changeup, pretty good slider. He’s tougher to hit now.”