Chapman settling into big league groove

Chapman settling into big league groove

Chapman settling into big league groove
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Aroldis Chapman has found his groove this spring.

The Reds pitcher walks in the clubhouse with a little more swagger this time around. He jokes around with his teammates a lot more than he did in his first two Spring Trainings.

Chapman has picked up the pace -- on and off the field -- and he hope it fast tracks him in the big leagues when Spring Training ends.

"Things are a lot different than in the beginning," Chapman said. "I didn't know much. I didn't know many people. I didn't know the style of game. Now, I have a couple of years here and I've been able to build some relationships and understand it a little more."

Chapman's grasp of the game and life in the United States is serving him well this month, especially when you consider that in some ways, he is still in the dark.

The Reds have not told him whether he will start the season as a member of the starting rotation, the bullpen or in the Minor Leagues. Chapman is competing with Homer Bailey for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake. He could also provide depth to a bullpen that has been depleted with the loss of closer Ryan Madson for the season to Tommy John surgery.

Chapman, who is scheduled to pitch Thursday against the Brewers, prefers to be a starter.

"This year, they've given me the chance to come in as a starter, and I feel like I'm taking advantage of it," said Chapman, who is in the third year of a six-year, $30.25 million deal with the Reds. "I trained hard in the offseason for this opportunity. There is still one spot left. We'll see what they do."

So far, Chapman is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 12 Cactus League innings. He has 12 strikeouts with only two walks and credits a faster tempo on the mound for part of his success this spring. He's discovered a new rhythm between pitches and realized that he works best when he works quickly.

"Something clicked with him," said Mario Soto, special assistant to the general manager and a former big league pitcher. "The same thing happened to me with my changeup. I was like 'Wow. This is what everybody is talking about. I'm going to stick with this.'"

Chapman smiles when asked about taking less time in between pitches. He knows the approach is working. He also knows there is still plenty of work to do before the end of Spring Training.

Chapman is maturing.

He says the most important lesson he has learned since signing with Reds is how to be a professional ballplayer. He's also learned how to balance the freedom that he was never afforded in Cuba with responsibility that comes with being a celebrity in the United States.

"I've learned discipline and the routine," he said. "You don't relax ever on the field. I'm more serious about that now. But you must understand that it's a different culture, here. We, all of us Latinos, come from a different place but you learn how it is here. Once you adjust, it's not a problem. You just have to adjust."

Part of Chapman's adjustment to the United States is learning how to speak English. He hired an English teacher during the offseason and practices with Rosetta Stone CDs in his spare time.

He hopes to be able to address reporters without a translator next Spring Training.

"English is the language of this country," he said. "You have to know it."

What Chapman doesn't know is where he will start the season.

What happens if he is told that the club needs him to pitch out of the bullpen?

"There is nothing I can do," he said. "They make the decisions, and I'll do the best I can do in the bullpen. And maybe next year I'll come to win a job as a starter."

And what if he starts the season in the rotation?

"That's what I want," he said. "I'll keep working hard at that job. I've been a starter for several years."

Chapman doesn't even want to talk about potentially starting the season in the Minor Leagues.

"Everyone was a starter at one time. Half of that [clubhouse] were shortstops, too," Baker said. "Everybody has a preference, but I'm sure [Chapman] would rather be in the big leagues. That's his preference."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.