GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A breezy and optimistic spring training for the Reds paused hard Monday when Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman was removed from his Cactus League outing against Colorado early because of a stiff lower back.
Chapman, a favorite to win the Reds' fifth slot in the starting rotation, said his back has been bothering him much of the past week -- though later he amended that and indicated that the issue just came up. He also said he has never before had back problems.
"We don't think it's anything serious," Reds manager Dusty Baker said following the Reds' 9-1 loss to the Rockies. "We took him out before it got any worse."
The Reds issued a statement later Monday that Chapman left Monday's game because of back spasms. He will be treated and re-evaluated later this week.
Chapman, through translator Tony Fossas, the pitching coach at Class A Dayton, said he is "not really hurt" and described it as "a little problem with my back I've had all week."
As long as it is a "little" problem, the Reds will breathe easy. Chapman, in competition with Mike Leake, Travis Wood and Justin Lehr for the final rotation spot behind Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey, had allowed only one run in seven spring innings before Monday, striking out 10 and walking only two.
Coming in after Bronson Arroyo to start the sixth, Chapman mowed down Troy Tulowitzki (swinging strikeout), Miguel Olivo (pop to shortstop) and Melvin Mora (grounder to third) on just eight pitches -- six strikes.
But during a 31-pitch seventh, he suddenly changed gears and started throwing more sliders and change-ups than fastballs. And where his fastball ranged from 93 to 97 miles an hour in the sixth, it was mostly in the 91-93 m.p.h. range in the seventh. In his previous outing, he had touched 102.
"The warning signs were I didn't think he was attacking the hitters," said Reds pitching coach Bryan Price, who visited Chapman on the mound a couple of batters before he returned with Baker and Reds trainer Paul Lessard. "He was trying to get guys out with his change-up and slider.
"I wanted to remind him, 'You've got a good fastball. Use it.'"
Not long after that mound visit, Price and the Reds' staff noticed Chapman stretching on the mound. When Price, Baker and Lessard went to the mound at that point, Chapman at first wasn't too forthcoming.
"I guess guys in Cuba are taught not to say much or complain," Baker said of Chapman, who signed a six-year, $30.25 million contract with the Reds on Jan. 11. "He really didn't have the same stuff. He really didn't have the same fastball, anything. We went out, and it was hard to pull it out of him."
Chapman, who wound up allowing four unearned runs, two walks, a wild pitch, a single and a double in 1 2/3 innings, was to be further examined by doctors later Thursday -- again, more precautionary than anything, the Reds hope.
As for how it may affect the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation if Chapman has to be shut down for a few days, well, let's say that's not first on the list of things Baker would like to think about right now.
"I don't know, man," Baker said. "Let's not speculate until we find out [if he has to miss time]."
Sunblock Day? Lovely day in the 80s in Arizona. Dare we declare that the cold stuff is past us and it's baseball weather from here on out.
Likes: Joe Mauer in Minnesota, long-term. ... Albert Pujols in St. Louis short-term, for now, and long-term later (it's gotta come eventually, right?). ... Vin Scully back at work. And his tremendous description of doctor's orders for him reducing his activity: "I'm supposed to cut back on dangling participles and I'm not allowed to split an infinitive for at least another week, but otherwise, no." ... How's this for percentages: There were 13 people on the writers' side of the press box for the Reds-Rockies Cactus League game in Goodyear on Monday, and two of them are in the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Hal McCoy, now blogging on the Reds for his old paper, the Dayton Daily News, and Tracy Ringolsby, who's got a regular gig on the Rockies' pre- and post-game telecasts for Fox Sports Rocky Mountain. ... Reds media relations director Rob Butcher, one of the very best in the business, training for the Boston Marathon on April 19. ... Fine, fine production of The Beauty and the Beast at Calavera Hills Middle School over the weekend in Carlsbad, Calif. The kids weren't simply acting, they became the characters. The sets were terrific. The sound was exceptionally clean. The production was top-shelf. The costumes were Academy Award-caliber. Phenomenal enough that I'm going to have to get to know some of these folks. Oh wait ... was the costume director really my wife? And one of the crack backstage crew members really my daughter? Man, I need to get home more. ... Jimmy Buffett and the Zac Brown Band on Crossroads, currently running on CMT. Fabulous pairing.
Dislikes: The guy in front of me in the airport security line Monday morning who was so clueless that, as he was removing the change out of his pockets, his belt and other metal objects actually had to remove suspenders from underneath his shirt as well. He had absolutely no idea. Airport security basically had to guide him through everything as he held up the line for at least five minutes. It was Airport Security for Dummies, to be sure. ... Sure do hate to see Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas sidelined the rest of the way.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"When I left I wasn't thinking
"That I wasn't coming home
"But first Al Green
"And then Barry White
"Convinced me not to go
"And I didn't come home for fighting
"I came to bandage up my hand
"And if you're gonna talk to me like that
"Then I'll just go back out again
"Wipe that chip right off your shoulder
"We ain't getting any younger
"Some things are getting bigger
"Some things are falling off
"Some things they seem much harder
"Some other things stay soft"
-- The Hold Steady, Cheyenne Sunrise