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Chapman says he prefers closing over starting

Chapman says he prefers closing over starting

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Reds' brain trust has been remarkably successful at not telegraphing their intentions about whether pitcher Aroldis Chapman will be a starter or closer this season.

On Saturday, after his latest start against the Giants, it was Chapman himself who came strongest towards the plate with his vote.

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"I would like to be the closer, but that's not in my hands," Chapman said via interpreter Tomas Vera.

The decision to convert Chapman into a starter was one of the most controversial in baseball during the offseason. The 25-year-old lefty with triple-digit velocity had 38 saves in 43 chances as a first-time closer last season while posting a 1.51 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings and 68 appearances.

However, several members of the organization believed the Reds could get more from Chapman's arm if he had more innings and a regular schedule in the rotation rather than being kept in a bullpen for possible save chances.

The bottom line from Chapman: He prefers the rush of the ninth-inning save situations over the long-haul nature of starting.

"In the beginning when I started closing, it was something I didn't know," Chapman said. "But as I started throwing and getting into the late part of the game when the game is more exciting and has more meaning, I kind of liked it. Yeah, the adrenaline goes up and I like to be in that situation. I would like to be a closer, yeah, but there are some things that I can't control."

Earlier this week, manager Dusty Baker made it clear he hoped a decision would come sooner than later so he and his team could start planning. Baker has never sounded overly enthusiastic about the idea of moving Chapman out of the bullpen. He has always stressed the final decision would be an organizational one.

Apparently, Chapman beat Baker to the punch about revealing a preference.

"I was going to talk to him after he pitched today for that purpose," Baker said after the Reds defeated San Francisco, 7-6. "You hear all kinds of stuff from this camp, people talking and everybody thinks they're in the know.

"We were going to do what's best for the organization and for him. But he makes it a lot easier when you get the person's blessing."

Over the years, Baker has often consulted with players on their preferences for their roles or batting-order spot, feeling that a comfortable player is a more productive player.

In this situation, it would seem to mean that Chapman's vote counts in the final decision.

"Like I've said, a man in the middle is a man in constant turmoil," Baker said. "We have to discuss it and then we'll see."

The murky outlook on who might be the Reds' fifth starter out of camp was no easier to predict on Saturday afternoon as both Chapman and fellow contender Mike Leake simultaneously started in split-squad games.

While Chapman emerged with a much better line than Leake, it was not the easiest of afternoons. Against the Giants, Chapman gave up one run and two hits over his four innings with three walks, two strikeouts and a wild pitch. He threw 60 pitches with only 31 for strikes.

In the other game vs. the Brewers, Leake allowed seven runs (five earned) and 10 hits over 3 1/3 innings with no walks, one strikeout and one home run.

The first inning vs. San Francisco seemed like pure labor for Chapman, who needed 27 pitches while throwing only 12 strikes. Relying on his fastball early, eight of his first nine pitches were balls and led to back-to-back walks. Third hitter Pablo Sandoval sharply lined a single to left field to load the bases.

On an 0-2 count to cleanup hitter Hunter Pence, Chapman bounced a wild pitch that scored Andres Torres for Chapman's lone run allowed.

"The issue I had was I was not commanding any of my pitches," Chapman said. "I was just throwing too many balls, too many bad pitches."

Chapman worked his way out of the jam by striking out Pence and getting a popout from Brandon Belt and a groundout to shortstop from Francisco Peguero.

"He has a knack for getting you out," Baker said. "He left some balls up that they missed, sliders. You can possibly get away with that when you throw the ball as hard as he does."

In the second inning, as Chapman mixed in more breaking pitches, Brandon Crawford led off with a single into right field. Chapman erased him quickly as Guillermo Quiroz grounded a first pitch for a 5-4-3 double play. Madison Bumgarner worked an 0-2 count full but struck out to end the 13-pitch inning.

"The catcher came in and told me I was just rushing and landing out front a little bit," Chapman said. "I was also opened up a little bit and the elbow was dropping. He said to work on that and that's what happened."

A 13-pitch third inning saw Torres lead off with another walk but Chapman's pickoff move to first base caught the runner stealing. The fourth inning was Chapman's most efficient frame as he needed only seven pitches to retire the side in order. It included a first-pitch flyout from Belt.

"He's a little wild at times, but sometimes that can work to your advantage a little bit," Belt said.

In three starts this spring, Chapman has a 2.25 ERA with two runs allowed over eight innings with four walks and four strikeouts. Leake's ERA went from 1.80 to 6.48 after Saturday's outing gave him 8 1/3 innings. The right-handed Leake, who was the fifth starter last season, is respected by Baker and the coaching staff. Earlier in camp, pitching coach Bryan Price said he could not imagine a 25-man roster without Leake being on it.

One way or the other, Chapman would like to know what's in store for him as soon as possible.

"I'm waiting for this," Chapman said. "I want to feel better about the situation and I want to concentrate more on whatever they tell me to do. I will sit down here and wait for their decision."

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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