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Chapman proves he can bring more than just heat

Chapman proves he can bring more than just heat

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Since the beginning of his tenure with the Reds, in 2010, Aroldis Chapman has earned his status by throwing heat, lots of heat. The 100-plus-mph velocity quickly earned him his nickname, "The Cuban Missile."

But to earn a spot in the rotation out of camp, he needs to show he can diversify. So during his impressive spring debut, vs. the Rockies on Thursday -- his 25th birthday -- the missile intentionally had lower octane.

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Chapman retired all six batters he faced over two innings, with one strikeout. Of the 23 pitches he threw, 19 were strikes.

"I feel really happy about it," Chapman said through interpreter Tomas Vera. "I could locate the pitches where I wanted. The results were good."

According to the scoreboard radar, Chapman's velocity topped out at 93 mph, as he did not appear to be using maximum effort (his career best is 105 mph). But he threw several secondary pitches with success. In the first inning, eight of the nine pitches thrown were strikes.

"That was nice," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "He was able to repeat some good pitches. He threw different pitches for strikes -- the fastball, the slider and the [split-fingered pitch]. He was pretty sharp for this early in camp."

Chapman also threw one changeup, for a total of four pitches used in the game.

"When these guys are going out for an inning or two at a time, it's hard to establish four pitches," Price said. "I really wanted him to focus on mostly fastball-slider. He threw a couple of splits and one changeup. So we're still trying to define that third pitch. With his arsenal, I don't think he really needs more than three pitches to try and master."

Of the six batters he faced, four grounded out, one popped out and one, former batterymate Ramon Hernandez, struck out to end the second inning. Hernandez fouled off several offerings during his nine-pitch at-bat before going down swinging on a slider in the dirt.

"This is a Spring Training game. I was working in those kinds of pitches that I don't control or use too much," Chapman said. "The breaking pitches and slow pitches are what I want to work on right now."

Following Chapman's dynamic 2012 season, in which he converted 38 saves after being installed as the closer on May 20, the club wants to move him to its rotation. It's a decision that's been met with controversy, because the Reds are messing with something that worked well, and there will be a jump in innings pitched. However, many on the Reds feel that Chapman could be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, as well as healthier in the long-term working every fifth day.

There are questions surrounding the numbers of innings Chapman will pitch during the season, but details have been kept under wraps by both Price and manager Dusty Baker.

Also unresolved is the status of last year's fifth starter, Mike Leake, who worked the other split-squad game, vs. the D-backs. Leake gave up one run on two hits with three strikeouts in his two-inning debut in Goodyear.

The biggest difference between the starter and closer roles, to Chapman, comes in the preparation.

"I've been doing more running than I used to," said Chapman, who went 5-5 with a 1.51 ERA, 23 walks and 122 strikeouts over 68 relief appearances (71 2/3 innings) last season. "I'm doing more lifting. As a starter you have to do this. As a reliever you do it completely different.

"When you are a closer, you have to prepare every day. You have to be ready every day. As a starter you have to throw a lot of innings in a game."

The current scenario that Reds have -- six quality starters for five spots -- is similar to that of last spring, when Chapman was supposed to move to the rotation. He was the best starter in camp but went to the bullpen after injuries to three pitchers forced a change in plans.

"That's what he did last spring -- fastball, slider and split," Price said. "The more he threw, the sharper he got. I think the repetition is helping. It was nice for him to get off to a good start."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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