The Cincinnati Reds feel fortunate that the most horrifying moment of Spring Training, which resulted in closer Aroldis Chapman being struck in the face by a line drive last Wednesday, thankfully it won’t be a severe long-term injury for the closer.
In the short-term, however, the Reds will have to carry on without Chapman closing the end of games. That remains a hot topic for the teammates who are closest to Chapman.
“We have a closer. He is coming back,” pitcher Sam LeCure said.
“Chapman is special at that role and will be missed,” reliever J.J. Hoover said. “I’m just happy it’s not as bad as it could have been. We were actually dealt a fortunate hand when it comes down to it.”
Last Thursday, Reds manager Bryan Price wasn’t ready to discuss the subject of the roster fiasco as it related to Chapman because it was simply too soon after he was injured. By Friday, when it was a little more information to discuss about it the picture of who could replace Chapman wasn’t any clearer.
“At this point in time, I’m not going to name a closer,” Price said. “We may never name a closer. I’m not sure yet.”
Chapman, who suffered fractures above his left eye and nose after being struck by a liner hit by the Royals’ Salvador Perez had surgery to repair the injury on Thursday and can begin working out and throwing in 10-14 days. He could pitch in-game conditions in 4-6 weeks.
Complicating matters for the Reds is that they are going to begin the season without their eighth-inning setup men. Left-hander Sean Marshall has yet to throw in a game because of a sore shoulder. Jonathan Broxton, who is coming back from August right forearm surgery, threw in his second game of spring on Friday.
Marshall’s expected DL stint isn’t new information, but Price didn’t believe that Broxton could get ready in time to begin the season.
“They have to be ready to do what the other guys are doing, that is to throw back-to-back games, have the durability to pitch on a regular basis, simply because the starters aren’t going to be asked to throw 115-125 pitches in that first part of the season,” Price said. “Our bullpen will be relied upon to pick up a fair amount of innings in the first month or so.”
Broxton has closer’s experience with the Dodgers and Royals and has stepped in to pitch the ninth for the Reds when Chapman wasn’t available in 2012. He would likely get the role on an interim basis, but he also could start the season on the DL.
“We know Broxton hopefully will be ready in short order that first week or two of the season,” Price said. “Then again, we have to get him acclimated and being back in the big leagues also.”
Several pitchers, including Hoover, LeCure, lefty Manny Parra and Logan Ondrusek, will have the chance to step up to bigger roles in the eighth or ninth innings. Alfredo Simon, who was strong as a reliever last season for Cincinnati, is expected to be in the rotation to replace the injured Mat Latos.
“At this point in time, I haven’t decided if I really want to name one guy to close or if we’ll situational pitch until we get to the ninth inning and see what’s left standing in our bullpen,” Price said. “I have confidence in the guys that we know are going to make our club.”
“A lot of this group is guys just trying to established themselves, really,” LeCure said. “I think everybody feels confident in each other no matter what the situation is, that we can get that job done.”
LeCure, Hoover, Parra and Simon stepped up their big time last season filling for Broxton and Marshall.
“Being able to do different roles, like our bullpen has had to do the past couple of years, I think it’s made us better,” Hoover said.
We are six days away from opening day, and it can’t come fast enough for this ball club, we will definitely find out how resilient this team.