Despite bearing no resemblance to a fierce, shut-down closer for the Yankees recently, Aroldis Chapman will continue to pitch in the tight situations he was signed on for, according to manager Joe Girardi.
“You’ve got to get him right, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi told NJ.com following New York’s gut-wrenching 9-6 loss to Boston at Fenway Park on Friday. “We need him to help us in the bullpen because the other guys sometimes need days off.”
The 29-year-old southpaw was summoned to pitch with the Yankees trailing the Red Sox by one run in the eighth inning Friday night. While New York’s bullpen squandered a three-run lead held in the seventh, Chapman’s presence only made matters worse. He quickly allowed a single to rookie Rafael Devers, a five-pitch walk to Christian Vazquez, a double-steal without checking the runners, and a two-run single to Jackie Bradley Jr., which ultimately gave Boston a 9-6 lead.
For the first time in Chapman’s eight-year career, he’s allowed at least two earned runs in his last three appearances. In seven games against Boston this season (6.1 IP), he owns a whopping 9.95 ERA with 10 walks and seven strikeouts.
Per NJ.com’s report, Girardi doesn’t believe lower-pressure situations will benefit Chapman, and that opposing hitters have simply adjusted to Chapman’s once formidable triple-digit heat.
“I brought him in the eighth and we were losing,” Girardi said. “So that’s not a high leverage situation, in a sense, not what he’s used to. No. I think closers a lot of times feed off adrenaline and feed off these situations but no, he’s a guy that needs to pitch in the back end and get it right.
“I think it’s location, some of it. But I’ve also said that 100 [mph] is not so rare anymore. It’s not. You’re starting to see it out of starters at times. It’s just commanding his pitches better and using them all.”
Although Chapman apparently tweaked his hamstring on the final play of Tuesday night’s game against the Mets at Yankee Stadium, there’s little reason to believe anything’s wrong with him physically, as he made himself available just two days later. And that makes his struggles even more confounding, as his velocity hasn’t been absent through his rough patch.
“You can’t get frustrated,” Chapman said. “Obviously, the last couple of outings, they haven’t been what I want them to be. Going through a tough moment right now but you can’t get frustrated. You just gotta work hard and get out of it.
“It’s hard to pinpoint and say just one thing because I feel physically really, really good. My arm feels great. But I think it’s just a tough moment that I’m going through and eventually I’m pretty sure I’ll get out of it.”
Almost every Major League pitcher has encountered demons at some point in their career, and right now, Chapman’s on the clock. Regardless of the slump — and the suitable bullpen options at the Yankees’ disposal — the southpaw is their closer, and Chapman’s contract suggests he’s not going anywhere.
Perhaps the first step to handling this mess is to realize something essential: Chapman is no Mariano Rivera. In fact, no one will ever come close, as much as the Yankees and fans hope. But that doesn’t mean Chapman isn’t talented or capable of fixing his issues. He certainly is, but in order for those hiccups to disappear, Chapman will need his regular opportunities, which means he still has dibs to those tight situations in the meantime.