No member of the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff is more impacted by the Aroldis Chapman saga than Mike Leake.
If Chapman starts the season in the starting rotation — the way Reds upper management hopes — Leake will be forced into a different and yet-to-be-determined role. If Chapman returns to one of the league’s most dominant bullpens, Leake is assured a spot as a fifth starter.
So consider it a bit of irony each got his first start on a busy Thursday, the first day that saw the Reds field split squads.
Chapman was commanding in his debut, taking the Rockies down in order through two innings of work at Salt River Fields in a game the Reds lost 4-3.
Meanwhile, Leake surrendered a pair of hits and one run in his two innings, but struck-out three as Cincinnati lost the Diamondbacks 6-5 at Goodyear Ballpark.
Pitching coach Bryan Price, who made the trip to see Chapman, said that rather than looking for mid-season form, he’s hoping to just see some intensity from his starters following Johnny Cueto’s rocky four-run outing on Wednesday.
“He’s no different from every other guy,” Price said. “Facing live hitters for the first time, you’re just hoping he’ll be able to focus through the hitters and throw some decent pitches. (Wednesday) was the first day for Cueto, and although he made a handful of real good pitches, it’s just different. You’ve got a hitter in there who’s trying to do some damage.”
Chapman showed command of his pitches as he forced four ground-ball outs, and a shallow flyball before closing the session with a strikeout of Ramon Hernandez. He used a steady diet of off-speed pitches, something he’s been tinkering with while in Arizona.
“I was working on those kinds of pitches that I don’t use too much,” Chapman said through interpretor Tomas Vera. “It’s the breaking pitches and the (off-speed) pitches that I want to work on right now. I could locate the pitches where I want. The results were good. I feel really happy about it.”
Chapman was clocked at 94 mph on his fastball, but insisted he wasn’t worried about where he topped out.
“I was just throwing,” Chapman said. “I didn’t want to put too much into it, or nothing on it. I was just trying to go do my job and get my pitches that I want.”
Price said: “I don’t expect to see the best velocity, the best breaking ball, things of that nature. But you want to see him around the plate and looking like he’s physically ready to compete. I think the program we’ve set up has these guys ready.”
As for Leake, Price expects him to keep fighting for his job, the way he has in the past. The product of nearby Arizona State is a favorite of both Price and manager Dusty Baker, held in high esteem for his work ethic and his knowledge of the game. Leake regressed through the first half of last year, but won eight of his last 12 decisions. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year contract worth just over $3 million.
“It’s an interesting situation,” Price said. “It’s similar to ‘10 and ‘11 and I think he’s taken the same mental approach. It’s the same approach you’d hope everyone would take: I’m going to pitch to make the team, no matter how established each guy is. With Leaker, he’s a major leaguer. He’s a major-league starting pitcher and a good one. I expect he’ll keep doing what he’s done all spring, and that’s to command the low zone, and repeat quality pitches.”
Extra bases: Zack Cozart was involved in both of the day’s biggest highlights in Scottsdale — one good and one bad. The Reds’ starting shortstop looked sharp defensively, going up the middle to rob D.J. LeMahieu of a hit in the third inning. But Cozart followed by grounding into a triple play in the fifth, eliminating what looked like a rally after Jack Hannahan and Denis Phipps reached base.
In Goodyear: Todd Frazier made his first appearance in five days after suffering a calf sprain while sliding into a base. Frazier scored a run, but finished 0-for-3. … The competition at utility infielder continues to heat up. Emmanuel Burriss had another hit Thursday as he started at second against the Diamondbacks and hit in the No. 2 spot in the order. Not to be outdone, Jason Donald had a pair of doubles and finished with three hits. … The Reds square off with the Royals today (3:05 p.m.), with Mat Latos slated to get the start.