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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Reds should stay the course with Chapman's move

Reds should stay the course with Chapman's move play video for Reds should stay the course with Chapman's move

All the Reds are attempting to do is maximize Aroldis Chapman's value. Does that sound like a bad idea? Maybe the scouts sitting behind home plate are right that he should be moved back to the closer's role. But they don't know that. Not yet anyway. They just can't. Neither does manager Dusty Baker or general manager Walt Jocketty or anyone else.

If the original idea to put Chapman in the starting rotation was legitimate -- and it was -- it's still a good idea. Maybe the Reds will find out he's more effective in the bullpen, but that's not something that can be answered in Spring Training.

To find out, he has to get the ball every fifth day for a while and be allowed to slip into a comfort zone and figure out how to pace himself through the early innings. That may not happen quickly, especially with someone who is only 25 years old and has never started a Major League game.

Unfortunately, decisions like this aren't made in a vacuum. Reds fans are vocal, very vocal, and social media and talk radio have given them a voice. If new closer Jonathan Broxton fails a couple of times in April, things can get ugly.

These kinds of issues can divide a clubhouse, and maybe an entire organization. The Reds are widely seen as one of the National League's three or four best teams and are expected to be in a dogfight of a division race with the Cardinals. After not getting past the first round of the playoffs in 2010 and 2012, everyone could feel the pressure.

The thing is, Jocketty has been absolutely consistent about how they viewed Chapman. From the moment the Reds made a $30 million commitment to him, Jocketty consistently has said he wants to exhaust every opportunity to make him a starting pitcher. That's because Chapman has top-of-the-rotation stuff, and if he can handle that role, he'd be far more valuable than in a ninth-inning role.

That was the plan last spring as well until Ryan Madson's injury forced Chapman into the closer role. He pitched so well -- 38 saves, .809 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings -- that there was an assumption he might not start again.

Baker seems to prefer Chapman in the bullpen, too, even though he hasn't said it flatly. Then again, who knows? He's caught in a tough spot. If he endorses the idea of Chapman starting, he's pulling the plug on Mike Leake. If he says he's for putting Chapman back in the bullpen, he's in a public disagreement with his boss, Jocketty.

Chapman has fanned the flames himself by saying at least twice, including Saturday, that he'd prefer to close. He has also said the decision isn't up to him and seems willing to go along with whatever the Reds want.

Maybe he'd come to enjoy starting, too, but it's natural for a young player to want to return to the role in which he had so much success. For his part, Baker said he'd simply like to have the issue settled.

So what should Jocketty do? Opening Day approaches. Meanwhile, every Reds fan seems to have an opinion.

Here's the bottom line: Stay the course. If Chapman can be a productive starter, that's the role he should have.

There is some awkwardness in this because the Reds went wire to wire with five starters last season, and Leake was one of the five. He's also popular in the clubhouse.

But Chapman has the kind of electric stuff that doesn't come along very often, and there are no wrong answers to how to use him. He has already proven he can be a first-rate closer, but if he can be a 200-inning, 200-strikeout starter, then that's how he should be used.

From the moment Jocketty decided to give Chapman another tryout in the rotation, he knew there'd be some second-guessing. His view seems to be that 200 innings is more valuable than 80 regardless of how devastating those ninth-inning losses can be.

Jocketty didn't establish himself as one of baseball's best general managers by doing dumb things. He also didn't get to this point in his career by being timid. His original thought on Chapman was the right one. And it's still right.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }