Relief in form of Chapman waiting in wings

Relief in form of Chapman waiting in wings

CINCINNATI -- If it wasn't for the apparent "no vacancy" sign hanging on the door of the Reds' bullpen, left-hander Aroldis Chapman might already be pitting his triple-digit velocity against big league hitters by now.

At any point now, the phone could ring and summon Chapman to Cincinnati. In his last 10 appearances for Triple-A Louisville, the 22-year-old is 3-0 and has pitched 11 1/3 innings with one unearned run and six hits allowed. He has walked four and struck out 16 while opposing batters are hitting .150.

"We'd certainly feel comfortable bringing him up," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "He's doing well pitching in relief and seems to like it."

Jocketty has been hesitant all season of disrupting things that are working with the Reds and few areas are working better lately than the bullpen, which has a 1.44 ERA over its last 13 games.

The late innings have been held together well by rookies Logan Ondrusek and Jordan Smith while veteran Nick Masset seems to have gotten his groove back as a setup man. Lefty Arthur Rhodes has ranged from lights out to dependable all season.

"The bullpen has been stabilized for the time being. We're happy with it," Jocketty said.

Since the Reds stunned baseball in January, when they outbid all for Chapman's services with a six-year, $30.25 million contract, there has been great anticipation for the Cuban defector's eventual callup.

Although Chapman was strong for most of Spring Training, the desire to have him in the Reds' rotation was trumped by the reality that he was a raw talent that needed lots of refining. While his 100-plus-mph velocity drew the admiration, his command needed work and his slider and breaking ball were not deemed big league ready. In 13 starts for Louisville, he was 5-5 with a 4.11 ERA, 40 walks and 76 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings. Also factoring was Chapman's development off the field as he tried to assimilate into the American culture after spending his life in isolated Cuba.

"It took a while for him to settle in and get comfortable with everything -- baseball, living and the routine," Reds Minor League director Terry Reynolds said. "Anybody under those circumstances that got thrown into all of this would need an adjustment period. We think he's gotten through that and it's been all good."

In late June, the Reds' rotation was performing well with no immediate need for a starter. However, the bullpen was struggling for consistency, prompting the feeling that Chapman's best chance to reach the Majors this season was as a reliever. He is expected to return to being a starting pitcher next season.

Chapman has a 2.75 ERA with 13 hits allowed, nine walks and 30 strikeouts over his 16 relief appearances since the switch. He's also saved two games, including one on Tuesday at Columbus. According to the reports, his one scoreless inning featured velocity from 96-102 mph and topping out once at 103 mph.

"He's settled into that role and each and every time, certainly gets more comfortable with it and does the job," Reynolds said. "His stuff, at times, is overpowering. He's been used in a number of different ways -- middle to late innings, back-to-back days and he's closed games. They're using him in pretty much any role but he hasn't had any long stints."

With the Reds in first place and holding a narrow half-game over the Cardinals in the National League Central on Thursday, having Chapman is an intriguing card for Jocketty to have up his sleeve as the stretch run nears.

The Chapman situation would be a somewhat similar scenario the Rays had with top left-handed starting pitcher prospect David Price in 2008. Tampa Bay, which would reach the World Series that season, called up Price in September and used him a reliever near the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.

Since he is already on the 40-man roster, Chapman could easily be a September callup when rosters expand. But if the Reds need him up sooner, there appears to be no qualms.

"From our standpoint, everything is in position when they feel they want him," Reynolds said. "We think he's close and one of the guys we'd recommend."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.