Early Into Aroldis Chapman’s Contract, Yankees See Warning Signs – New York Times

“No, he hasn’t,” Girardi said. “We’re trying to put our finger on it, too, just like everyone else.”

Chapman had blown two saves in his last five appearances entering Saturday — more than he did in three months with the Yankees last season. His 3.92 E.R.A. and 1.50 walks and hits per inning pitched would be the highest marks of his career.

Lavishing such a lucrative and long contract on a relief pitcher can be a risky business because the sample sizes for relievers are small and their numbers can fluctuate from year to year. But the Yankees had confidence in Chapman, in large part because of their experience with him last season.

“It’s always risky with a hard thrower, right? Injury and all that?” the owner Hal Steinbrenner of the Yankees said in an interview before the start of the season. “But this is a guy that really has no injury history. He’s quite strong, and if anybody’s going to be O.K. for that many years, in that role, throwing that hard, it’s going to be him.”

So it had to be disconcerting when Chapman went to the disabled list in May for just over a month with shoulder inflammation, his first trip there for an arm injury in six years.

It could be that, even though he has maintained a chiseled physique, all the years of unleashing the fastest pitch in baseball — his fastball was once clocked at 105 m.p.h. — have begun to take their toll.

Even before Chapman’s trip to the disabled list, Rothschild said: “There’s a little difference in the command of the ball. It’s been more sporadic than I saw last year.”

That was particularly apparent on Friday night as Chapman struggled to locate his fastball, often sending catcher Gary Sanchez scrambling. But Chapman did not appear comfortable enough to throw his other pitches — his slider or his changeup — either because he was behind in the count or because he was concerned that a mistake could more easily be hit out of the ballpark.

All 23 pitches Chapman threw were fastballs. He generated one swing and miss.

The notion that Chapman should have incorporated his slider or changeup is complicated, Rothschild said, because Chapman’s fastball was not hit particularly hard.

“If he gives up a home run on a slider, what are you saying today? ‘Why didn’t you throw a fastball?’” Rothschild said. “That’s what he’s thinking ahead of the game.”

But getting Chapman to use his other pitches more has been a quest for the Yankees since they acquired him the first time, before the 2016 season. He has said in spring training each of the last two years that he wants to incorporate those pitches more often. But his command of them comes and goes, and so does his confidence in them.

Interestingly, he turned to them when he was fatigued in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series and gave up a tying home run to Rajai Davis. When Chapman came out again, with a fastball that was far from his best — around 97 m.p.h. — he used his slider and changeup to work a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

In picking up a save against the St. Louis Cardinals in April while pitching for a third consecutive night, he did not throw a first-pitch fastball to any of the five hitters he faced. But those sorts of nights have been sporadic.

“He’s not a guy that’s ever thrown a whole lot of sliders or changeups behind in the count,” Girardi said. “It’s something that it would help if he grew into that. He has been for the most part a one-pitch, sometimes a two-pitch guy, but as you get older and you’re seen more, you have to make adjustments.”


Continue reading the main story

Early Into Aroldis Chapman’s Contract, Yankees See Warning Signs – New York Times