Recovered from liner to face, Reds phenom looks in prime form vs. Rox
Special to MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- The noise that was about to shake Great American Ball Park began in a small section of seats wedged into an area just to the left of the Cincinnati bullpen.
Fans there had been watching Reds All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman warm up. When the door to the field opened and Chapman began walking toward it, those fans knew a very special moment was about to occur. They stood and cheered, attracting the attention of other fans around them. The outburst extended through a crowd of more than 33,000 a few seconds later, and the din soon echoed across the Ohio River.
Chapman returned to the Reds for the first time since his horrifying Spring Training mishap, and his ensuing performance was as memorable as his entrance. Chapman fired fastballs of over 100 mph, struck out three consecutive batters after a leadoff walk and preserved Cincinnati's 4-1 win over Colorado.
"My favorite pitch was the third strike to the last guy," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "My second-favorite was the first strike he threw. I thought about how far he had come back. It was something really cool to be a part of."
Chapman's first pitch was a 100-mph fastball that Troy Tulowitzki watched for a called strike. Tulowitzki went on to draw a walk, but Chapman fanned Carlos Gonzalez on three pitches, then struck out Nolan Arenado and Justin Morneau swinging to end the game.
His fastball velocity ranged from 99-102 mph, and Chapman kept the hitters off balance by mixing in a few sliders as well.
"I had a lot of emotion going," Chapman said through translator Tomas Vera. "I was happy I was able to control myself and to be able to work without any distraction."
Thursday marked Chapman's first time facing Major League hitters since March 19, when he was struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Kansas City's Salvador Perez. Surgery was required to repair fractures near his nose and left eye.
"He was pitching with heart and determination," Reds third baseman Todd Frazier said.
The 26-year-old left-hander threw 21 pitches, 14 for strikes.
Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said he had planned to use Chapman in the ninth inning if the situation presented itself.
"He will still pitch in the eighth inning at times," Price said.
Price also said he was not worried about Chapman's struggles during his final two Minor League rehabilitation outings, particularly when Triple-A Louisville catcher Corky Miller pronounced Chapman sound.
"Maybe somebody else was worried about it, but not me," Chapman said.
The two-time All-Star saved 38 games for Cincinnati in both 2012 and 2013.