Chapman in the zone after latest outing

Chapman in the zone after latest outing

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Scoreboard watching takes on a new meaning when Aroldis Chapman is on the mound. And it's not just the fans doing it.

"Everybody likes looking up at the board when he throws a fastball," the Bats' Drew Sutton said with a laugh. "It's probably the most entertaining thing."

Everyone knows about the Cuban phenom's fastball. It topped out at 100 mph on Tuesday night in Columbus and has been clocked as high as 103 in Louisville. When "00" showed up on the two-digit pitch speed board in the second inning, a collective "Ohh" could be heard from the Huntington Park seats.

But it was the offspeed pitches that helped Chapman in his 10th and longest outing of the season for the Triple-A Bats. He threw seven innings, allowing two runs and four hits with three walks and five strikeouts on 88 pitches in a no-decision. He left the game with a one-run lead, but the Bats lost to the Columbus Clippers, 4-3.

After cruising with eight fastballs in the first inning, Chapman increasingly worked in offspeed pitches as the night wore on and bounced back from walks and hits by showing command and getting quick outs.

"This is his best start as far as the efficiency of all of his pitches," Bats manager Rick Sweet said. "He used them all very well. And obviously, it's the longest outing he's had, but it's the best outing using all of the pitches he's had."

There is currently no timetable for a Chapman promotion to Cincinnati. While he is pitching well and boasts a 5-2 record with a 3.42 ERA, Bats pitching coach Ted Power continues to refine his mechanics.

That's not to say a lot of progress hasn't been made. Speaking with trainer Tomas Vera translating, Chapman said he's had a better feel for his breaking ball the last few outings, and Tuesday was a continuation of that.

"I had better feeling and they were landing in a good location, so I felt more comfortable throwing the breaking pitch than my fastball," Chapman said. "So I relied on those more."

As with most Minor League pitchers, Sweet and Power both said developing consistency is key. Improving balance and not falling off to the side too soon is something Power said can go a long toward becoming more consistent with command.

"He has related to me how he can feel the difference, and that's the biggest thing in the world," Power said. "Because when he first started here with us, he was falling off to third base really heavily, which means his balance was not good."

The adjustments Chapman has had to make are wide-ranging and sometimes easy to overlook. The on-field learning doesn't simply include command of a slider. From backing up first base to knowing what to do with bunts, Chapman has received a crash course in fundamentals often not emphasized in his previous baseball experiences.

But it's also the culture. Sweet emphasized that Chapman couldn't point out Columbus on a map and has no idea who Stephen Strasburg is. His job is simply to pitch and to prepare to pitch.

Sutton could barely find the words to describe how difficult the transition must be.

"I bet the toughest thing for him has been food, honestly," Sutton said. "It would be like growing up in the United States and then moving over to Japan or something like that and having to deal with a whole different culture and food.

"I can't imagine what it's like where you all of a sudden have freedoms to just turn on the TV and watch whatever you want or walk out of the hotel and go to whichever restaurant you want. I can't even fathom what all goes on there."

When asked how his English is coming along, Chapman hesitated before delivering a one-word English response: "amateur."

But he's getting help with all the transitions from people like Vera and Power, who has become more confident in his own Spanish-speaking skills as he uses the language with Chapman more.

A trust continues to build between the two, starting with things as simple as eye contact.

"It was kind of funny, one of the things in the beginning is he would hardly ever look you in the face," Power said. "And we've gotten past that now to when I talk to him, he'll look at me, and I can get his attention more. I probably had his attention before, but when you look at someone's eyes, almost without knowing the language you know what they're trying to say."

It's unknown when Chapman will finally make the much-hyped jump to the big leagues. It's a given that there will be a lot of fanfare involved, but Sweet said dealing with it will be a "piece of cake" for Chapman, and Power said one of the things he's made clear is he loves to face challenges.

Tuesday marked the third strong outing in a row, as he's allowed just two runs and 10 hits in 17 2/3 innings. The command continues to improve, and Chapman feels his breaking ball has been more consistent of late.

When it will be enough to get to Cincinnati? Only time will tell.

"In my opinion, we've got a couple pitchers who are much more ready to go to the big leagues. We sent Sam LeCure last time," Sweet said. "Is he ready? Absolutely. He could go. But is he ready to really go up there? No. That's why he's still here.

"When we determine he's ready, I'm sure everybody is going to be wanting to get him up there, and we have people come through regularly, our scouts and coordinators and not just to see him, to see all the pitchers. And they all agree. He's getting better, but he's got a ways to go."

Matt Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.