By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The experimental time period of getting to know each other has gone well for Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman and his new teammates since he was acquired via trade on July 25. Chapman has told people around him how extraordinary his new teammates are both on and off the field.
Early on, the flame-throwing Chapman was asked on a couple occasions to record a four-out save, but it was the type of work like Thursday that he most enjoys. In an efficient effort, Chapman recorded two lineouts and a groundout in the span of three pitches in what was an eventual 4-3 win for the Cubs over the Cardinals in 11 innings. It was the first time since April 19, 2014 that a Cubs pitcher had induced three outs in three pitches.
“The talent is even more impressive when you are watching it on your side,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Chapman. “I think I am watching it more closely now. When you are on the other side of it, you are worried about who is hitting, what you have left on the bench. Now I am really intent on watching him pitch. That life he has on the baseball is really different coming in on home plate.”
Across baseball, the personal acclimation seems much easier for American players when they’re moved from team to team. For non-American players like Chapman, a native of Cuba, settling in after a trade can be more difficult, especially when communication is minimal because of language barriers.
In Chapman’s case, he had an uneasy reception from some media members and outsiders that unnerved him when he arrived in Chicago. He went through the public scrutiny of addressing a domestic violence incident from last October in which he wasn’t charged but was suspended for 30 games by MLB. He served that suspension while with the Yankees to open the season.
“For him personally, it’s obvious you must get in there and talk to him a little bit,” Maddon said. “You must develop that relationship. He is smiling more easily now. The conversations are coming back to me more in English now. That is more fun.”
Observing Chapman’s velocity game has become a favorite act of the Wrigley Field faithful, as the radar gun occasionally reached 104 mph.
“The guys on the bench are mimicking what the crowd buzz is when he throws,” Maddon said. “It is wonderful. How many pitchers get that king of reaction? There are a couple. It is fun when you anticipate that big number. We have never seen that here. It was fun to watch before, but now he is our toy.”
Chapman has converted four of five save opportunities as a Cub, for whom he has a 1.17 ERA in eight appearances. He has a 1.85 ERA and 0.77 WHIP for the season.
And for division foes, there’s a more ominous statistic. Dating back to August 2013, Chapman has converted 41 consecutive save chances against NL Central opponents, with a 0.43 ERA and 121 strikeouts in that span. He played for the Reds from 2010-’15.
“When he is off, he is still throwing at 99 MPH,” Maddon said. “That is still so quick to home plate. Some guys react better to that. Some of the lefty hitters have been just able to make contact with it. You also see the guys who really don’t react that well to it. I think when he gets even more comfortable, you will see an even higher level of performance by him.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.