Aroldis Chapman Looking Like Reds' Fifth Starter

GOODYEAR, AZ: Starting pitcher Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Cincinnati Reds warms up in the bullpen before facing the San Diego Padres during a spring training baseball game at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Cincinnati Reds' pitching rotation is locked in, one through four: Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake. But the fifth slot has been left open, with incumbent Homer Bailey trying to fend off a challenge from Aroldis Chapman -- "the Cuban Missile" -- this spring.

Supposedly the competition is still open. John Fay (via Cincinnati.com):

Dusty Baker said no decision has been made on whether left-hander Aroldis Chapman will start or relieve this year.

Chapman will start one of the split-squad games Saturday. He’ll start on the road against San Diego.

"We’re close," Baker said. "You’ll be notified when we make our decision. Right now, we don’t know. (The last time) it was kind of decided for us."

Two years ago when he was competing for a job in the rotation, Chapman came down with a sore back near the end of spring training.

One can understand Baker's doubts, considering Chapman's back injury in 2010 and his control issues in 2011, when he walked 41 hitters in 50 innings. But the supposed competition this spring between Chapman and Homer Bailey has hardly been competitive. In seven innings, Chapman's given up two runs and one walk, while striking out seven. Meanwhile, Bailey's given up nine runs in 11⅓ innings, with six walks and three strikeouts.

I wouldn't recommend making a significant decision based on 18⅓ innings in March. And maybe it does make sense to send Chapman back to the minors, just to confirm that he's really remembered how to throw more strikes than balls. He does have an option left, so can be sent down without exposing him to waivers (and of course he would be claimed in a heartbeat). Meanwhile, Bailey did post an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.21) last season, so it's far too early to give up on him. And unlike Chapman, Bailey is out of options.

Speculation: Chapman pitches well enough in his next start to earn that starting job, while Bailey winds up on the Disabled List for the fourth time in three seasons. Poor kid just can't seem to get his shoulder right.

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