OAKLAND, Calif. — Aroldis Chapman pitched a 1-2-3 inning and the New York bullpen nearly felt right again. Except that he threw the eighth this time in another close defeat, not in a ninth-inning save situation, as is his customary slot.
Chapman rejoined the Yankees on Sunday eager to get going after more than a month on the disabled list, and his teammates couldn’t wait to have their flame-throwing closer back in the bullpen from a shoulder injury.
"Once I got out there, everything felt good and felt normal," said Chapman, who had concerns about being rusty since he hadn’t been as sharp locating his pitches.
Manager Joe Girardi planned to use Chapman in the series finale at Oakland regardless of the situation just to get him back in the major league mix immediately, and the Yankees took a 4-3 loss and a sweep at the hands of the Athletics for New York’s season-high sixth straight defeat.
Everybody believes having Chapman back should help the cause.
"It’s big," Girardi said postgame. "I talked about, he said he was rusty. He looked pretty good to me today. It’s a big power arm to have back. It lengthens our bullpen."
Chapman reported no problems with his troublesome shoulder after he flew cross-country for one game before the club was set to return to the Bronx with a day off Monday ahead of a home series with the Angels.
The left-hander had been sidelined since May 13 with inflammation in the rotator cuff of his pitching shoulder.
"I just think that, if you’re a player that’s being paid to play and you’re eligible, you’d show up," Girardi said. "This is something I’ve heard from a couple different people about, ‘You’re going to fly him across the country for one day?’ How many divisions have been lost by one game in the course of history? How many playoff spots have not been guaranteed because of one game? Yeah, it’s not ideal to be all the way out here, yeah, I get that. But he had a travel day where he didn’t play. All our other players had a travel day where they played that day. If you’ve got people available that are the best, you want them here."
While on his three-appearance rehab assignment, Chapman said it was difficult to see his team lose close games when he could have helped.
He is encouraged the shoulder feels right at last and he is pain-free. And Chapman feels good about his velocity, showing that with several pitches clocked at 101-102 mph.
"I was watching games and keeping track of how the team was doing and yeah, it’s tough to see that you’re not there to help because that’s what you want to do, you want to help your team. To watch from afar, it’s tough," Chapman said through an interpreter.
"The thing I would say is I feel healthy and strong. The velocity is up there now and I wasn’t as sharp as far as commanding my pitches but that’s something I can get in the next couple days. The team needs me and that’s why I’m here. They need me and I want to be here. Ready to go."
"It’s big. It just lengthens our bullpen," Girardi said. "Any time you get an arm of that type of quality, it’s going lengthen your bullpen and make us better."
He is 1-0 with seven saves in eight chances this season.
"We felt that the three outings that we had would be sufficient. He’s going to pitch today probably no matter what," Girardi said. "You really never know until you get here, and it’s always a different mentality for a guy of that experience pitching in the minor leagues compared to pitching here. I just think a lot of times it’s hard for them to really lock in."
To clear roster room for Chapman’s return, the Yankees optioned catcher Kyle Higashioka to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.