CLEVELAND — Aroldis Chapman turned, put his head down and walked off the mound before Aaron Boone had gotten over the first base line. He had been handed an eight-run lead and just walked the bases loaded without recording an out in the seventh inning of his first game back off the injured list.
He looked defeated as he left, even as the Yankees were en route to routing the Guardians 13-4 in the first game of a split doubleheader at Progressive Field.
“I know he wants it,” Boone said of Chapman’s mindset right now. “The good thing is, like I said, I feel like his work and his sides and everything’s been really good. So it’s in there.
“But I think there’s probably a little bit [of a lack of] confidence right now. That’s not there,” Boone said. “When Chappy’s at his best, he’s a mother out there. He’s got a lot of confidence and we gotta get that back to him. So that’s the biggest thing right now because I do feel like he’s healthy and the work is there. But it’s getting over that hump, and I think confidence plays a big factor in that.”
Saturday, Chapman fell behind Andres Gimenez right away and it never got better. Boone got Ron Marinaccio up as soon as Chapman fell behind Richie Palacios, who he walked on six pitches. The 34-year-old former closer walked Sandy Leon and before Boone could even reach the mound, he’d walked off and was heading for the dugout. He threw 19 pitches, seven for strikes. He got two swings-and misses. His fastball touched 99 mph, but sat between 97-98.
“He’s healthy,” Boone said. “I know he warmed up really good and was throwing the ball really well [in the bullpen]. He’s got to get out there and almost not think in terms of not throwing the ball, but just trust in it and let it rip and then let the results fall where they may. I think he’s guarding against making sure he doesn’t throw a ball.”
Chapman was on the injured list for over a month to deal with ankle/Achilles tendinitis, but with the luxury of having Clay Holmes to close games, the Yankees made time for him to work on his delivery as well.
In 17 appearances this season, before suffering the injury, the native Cuban had the highest ERA (3.86) and the lowest strikeout rate (22.7%) of his career. His fastball velocity, which has been declining since 2017, is averaging 97.1 mph. The velocity on all his other pitches is down as well.
Chapman said there were no major mechanical changes needed. Pitching coach Matt Blake said they were trying to get Chapman to focus on staying in line and Boone described the work as making Chapman “more compact.”