In an impressive sequence in the third inning, Chapman threw four pitches to strike out George Kottaras that were clocked at 95, 96, 97 and 97 mph."It's very funky," Hart said. "Everything he threw was moving. Nothing was the same." Over three outings this spring, Chapman has given up one earned run and four hits with two walks and a team-leading 10 strikeouts. He is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA. The Reds made a splash when they signed Chapman in January to a six-year, $30.25 million contract despite him largely being an unknown entity. He defected from Cuba in July and had no professional experience. To this point on the mound, Chapman has mostly backed up the bold investment. "He looked outstanding," Baker said. "The more I looked at him, he started to remind me of a guy I faced and a guy I played in Puerto Rico with -- [former Red Sox tall and skinny left-hander] Rogelio Moret. He had a nasty sinker today, a two-seamer, that we didn't even know he had. He's slowly but surely adding to his repertoire of pitches. He's feeling more comfortable and more confident." Chapman demonstrated less command with his fastball and slider in his previous outing vs. the Dodgers on Friday. But he has been nowhere nearly as wild and raw as scouting reports indicated before camp began. Part of the reason is because Chapman focused on improvements since signing and has learned quickly. "I am staying taller and finishing up my pitches better and not dropping my elbow," he said. "I was always opening up too much and I've made those corrections." Chapman is making a bid for the fifth spot in the Cincinnati rotation against several other candidates -- including Micah Owings, Travis Wood, Justin Lehr and Matt Maloney. One pitcher no longer in the race is Mike Lincoln, who was informed Wednesday morning that he would be headed back to his regular bullpen role. It wasn't a stunner since Lincoln had a 11.37 ERA in three starts. The only fifth-starter candidates having anywhere close to Chapman's success are two other prospects that had outside chances, at best, coming in -- Wood and 2009 first-round Draft pick Mike Leake. "We're starting to narrow it down," Baker said. "We're going back to have some meetings and try and determine who is who. It'll probably go down to the wire, even if we have to use Minor League games or 'B' games and things like that. As long as we get these guys their innings for endurance sake." Since the Reds tell their pitchers exactly when they'll be coming out of the bullpen, the club didn't view Chapman's first start as a different type of test from his previous relief appearances. What made this outing different was some hitters saw him a second time around, but Baker even downplayed that significance. "Initially, how to pitch them goes to the catcher," Baker said. "Where to pitch them goes to the catcher. How you get it there is up to him." So far, Chapman has done his part by mostly getting it there well. The decision of whether he's big league-ready falls on the Reds.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less