The fastball topped out at 97 mph. The hitters couldn't catch up with it. By all appearances, left-hander Aroldis Chapman was back in form after a one-week layoff because of back spasms.
The Cuban defector pitched one inning of a minor league game for the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear, Ariz., on Sunday, having little trouble with up-and-coming Milwaukee Brewers. He struck out the first two batters he faced – one of them on a nasty slider – and gave up a single up the middle before getting the final out on a routine grounder.
“I felt like before,” Chapman said, with a trainer acting as translator. “I feel really good.”
The 22-year-old pitcher was in the running for the fifth starter’s spot before spasms in his lower back forced him to leave a game last Monday. He didn’t throw for two days, giving the back time to recuperate.
While the rest of the team played the Dodgers, Chapman went to one of the back practice fields behind the Reds’ complex, testing his back in a very low-key setting against minor league hitters.
Chapman’s fastball hit 100 mph on radar guns during earlier appearances this spring, when he threw a little harder each inning he stayed on the mound. He threw 19 pitches on Sunday, 12 of them strikes. A couple of them hit 97 mph on a radar gun set up on a white table behind the backstop.
“I could have thrown more than one inning,” Chapman said. “There were only two days I stopped throwing.”
What happens next is unclear.
The Reds signed Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal in January, planning to go slow with a player who was going through culture shock after defecting. They held open the possibility that he could win the final spot in the rotation, but there was a crowded field of youngsters and veterans competing for the job.
Branyan goes on disabled list
Cleveland first baseman Russell Branyan is going on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his back, giving the starting job to Matt LaPorta.
Indians manager Manny Acta said the team didn’t think Branyan had enough time to get ready for the season opener April 5 at the Chicago White Sox.
Branyan has yet to play in a Cactus League game because of his back. Back problems landed him on the disabled list in September when he was with Seattle.
Giants lock up three pitchers
The San Francisco Giants announced the signing of three pitchers to contract extensions through 2012: starter Matt Cain, setup man Jeremy Affeldt and closer Brian Wilson.
The deal for Cain, 25, pays him $4.5 million in 2010, $7 million in 2011 plus a $1 million signing bonus, and $15 million in 2012. Affeldt, 30, will receive a $500,000 raise to total $4.5 million this season, get $4.5 million in 2011 and have a $5 million club option with a buyout of $500,000 for 2012. Wilson, 28, will get $6.5 million in 2011 and $8.5 million in 2012 – up from his $4.437 million salary this season.
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said that, barring a trade this week, the Twins will start the regular season with a closer-by-committee approach after losing All-Star closer Joe Nathan to ligament-replacement surgery in his elbow. … Jon Garland has been named the San Diego Padres’ opening day starter by manager Bud Black. Garland will face Arizona’s Dan Haren in Phoenix on April 5. … Right-hander Chad Gaudin has agreed to terms with the Oakland Athletics three days after being released by the New York Yankees.