Reliever puts on show, consistently tops 100 mph after joining New York's bullpen
By Nick Suss
NEW YORK -- The wait finally ended for Yankees fans Monday night: Aroldis Chapman is in the Bronx, and the back end of the Yanks' bullpen is complete.
Chapman, acquired from Cincinnati this offseason for four Minor Leaguers, was reinstated from Major League Baseball's restricted list after serving a 30-game suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy. He made his debut in the ninth inning of Monday's 6-3 win over the Royals, allowing one run on two hits and striking out two while consistently topping 100 mph.
Chapman described the outing as "good" and "comfortable," but based on the reactions he received from fans, one could've easily mistaken his outing for the ninth inning of Don Larsen's perfect game. He emerged from the bullpen in the ninth to an outburst of applause, applause that echoed every time his fastball registered 100 mph or higher.
"[I was] very excited and happy that the fans received me the way they did," Chapman said. "But I was looking to stay focused and get the job done."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he was impressed with the Cuban left-hander's outing, saying that he expected there would be a lot of adrenaline coursing through Chapman's system as he made his season debut, but that he appeared to handle it well. As for the speed at which Chapman was throwing, both Girardi and catcher Brian McCann admitted to taking a break from the action to peek up at the scoreboard just like the fans.
"I think we all take a look at the board to see [how fast] it is," Girardi said. "There's some guys in the back of that bullpen that throw really hard. To see that 101, that's not something you see every day."
Chapman spoke to the media Sunday afternoon about his suspension, expressing that he has learned from this experience and apologizing for what he described as "bad judgment." He also commented on the state of the Yanks' bullpen, which, even before his arrival, was the strength of the team. With Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances already in place, Chapman said he is honored to figure in as the closer in this stacked bullpen.
"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 and that I will be the closer," Chapman said. "At the same time, I'm very humbled by Betances and Miller, their moving down in the order to allow me to pitch the ninth."
Girardi said prior to Monday's game that he doesn't have a steadfast principle in place on how he plans to use Betances, Miller and Chapman and that, assuming they are all available, their usage will be more dependent on situation than inning. This strategy ended up being put to the test Monday, as Girardi signaled to the bullpen for all three relievers to warm up, but ended up only using Chapman.
Girardi said that while he doesn't like to warm a reliever up and not use him, given the nature of Monday's game, where the tying run was rarely further than two batters away, he wanted to be ready with his best arms to keep the win on the table at all times.
Betances didn't seem to be bitter, though, despite not coming into the game. If anything, he was just as engaged by the spectacle of Chapman's debut as the fans were. Betances joked that he was disappointed that Chapman couldn't hit 102 mph and said that, if anything, he feels sorry for the bullpen catcher for having to field Chapman's warmup pitches.
But at the end of the day, Betances perhaps had the best analysis of Chapman's exciting but statistically underwhelming debut.
"He put on a show for the crowd tonight," Betances said. "And today wasn't even his best stuff."
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.