PITTSBURGH -- He was pitching from behind a screen and facing hitters wearing the same Reds uniform, but Wednesday remained a significant benchmark for closer Aroldis Chapman.
For the first time since he was struck in the head by a line drive last month and suffered fractures above the left eye and nose, Chapman faced hitters. He threw 27 pitches of live batting practice. The hitters were Brayan Pena and Neftali Soto and third-base coach Steve Smith also stepped in for an at-bat.
"I felt very good. I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary," Chapman said with Pena interpreting.
The Reds were quite pleased with Chapman's performance.
"He threw all of his pitches. He was very sharp," manager Bryan Price said. "Good velocity. Good slider. He threw his changeup. He looked like midseason form."
"Especially with a hitter like me, you've got to be careful," Pena joked. "He did great. Everybody was very excited and happy to see him go back out there. His confidence was very good. It was a great sign."
It was Chapman's choice to pitch behind a protective screen, which the club felt was a good idea.
"It's a little bit of a different animal when you're facing your guys," Price said. "Typically, most of your pitches are going to be away from the hitter. You don't want to hit your own guys throwing live batting practice. The balls that typically get smoked up the middle are the ones that are out and over the plate. I would have been a little concerned to have him go out there the first time without some protection."
Said Chapman about using a screen: "It was a little bit uncomfortable but it didn't make any difference to me because I was able to execute all of my pitches."
The next step for the 26-year-old Chapman is another live BP session, sans the screen, this weekend in Atlanta. After that, he would likely head out on a Minor League rehab assignment.
"On the front ends of this, we certainly want to make sure he gets a chance to face hitters and do what would be fairly standard protocol if we were in Spring Training," Price said. "That being said, we're not at the front end of a Spring Training template. He's not a month away from activation."
Progress has been remarkably rapid since Chapman was injured on March 19 vs. the Royals. He began light throwing within a couple of weeks and returned to a bullpen mound April 14.
Chapman, a two-time All-Star who has saved 38 games in each of the past two seasons, has been happy about bouncing back so quick.
"I'm just trying to continue to improve because I know it's not going to be easy," he said. "It takes time. Now I believe I'm going to go and rehab in the Minor Leagues. It's a long process. Throwing-wise, I feel great. I feel like nothing happened. I'm very pleased with my performance today."