Although the Yankees were rained out against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday night, it appears that left-handed reliever Aroldis Chapman would have been assigned to close out the game, according to manager Joe Girardi.
“I think it’s something that you definitely think about,” Girardi told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch on Wednesday. “I possibly would have closed with him tonight knowing that the other days could probably use a day off. I’ve said that I really believe that Chapman is going to play an important role down this stretch. We need him. So it’s going to be important.”
In Chapman’s last two appearances (2 IP, H, 4 K), he’s looked like his old dominant self. On Tuesday night, the 29-year-old served as the setup man, and pitched a scoreless eighth inning that preserved the Yankees’ 6-5 lead. The velocity on his fastball was also encouraging, as it maxed out at 102.6 mph during his 11-pitch outing.
According to Hoch, Chapman worked with pitching coach Larry Rothschild to reduce the amount of cut on his fastball, and in doing so, believes he’s regained confidence. Although Girardi hasn’t noticed any difference in Chapman’s mechanics, his strong outings of late suggest improvement and progress.
“I’ve been a closer for a long time in my career, but that’s not the focus here,” Chapman said through an interpreter to Hoch. “For me, I just need to be ready to pitch wherever they need me. The other guys that are closing games right now are very good pitchers, Dellin and [David] Robertson. As of right now, what matters is winning. Wherever they need me to pitch, I’ll be ready.”
Since Chapman was demoted from his role in mid-August, the Yankees have had a closer by committee. On Tuesday night, Dellin Betances took the mound and blew the one-run save, allowing a two-run walk-off home run to Manny Machado. New York has also turned to veteran David Robertson, who once served as closer during his first stint with the club.
With the Yankees scheduled to wrap up their series with Baltimore on Thursday afternoon, it’s possible that Chapman returns to the ninth inning. However, if the game or situation does not call for him, Girardi’s still optimistic that Chapman’s struggles are behind him.
“I’m sure a lot of people would love to have my problem, to have those three guys at the back end and figure out which one you’re going to try to close with,” Girardi said. “It’s something we’ll continue to talk about, but the best thing from all of this is Chappy has thrown the ball really well the last two times. I would say [Tuesday] night has probably been as good as we’ve seen in a while and that’s a really good thing.”
This past offseason, Chapman signed a five-year, $86 million deal with New York — the most money ever given to a closer.