OAKLAND, Calif. — Aroldis Chapman rejoined his teammates Sunday ready to pitch again after more than a month on the disabled list, and the struggling New York Yankees couldn’t wait to have their flame-throwing closer back in the bullpen.
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. In fact, Chapman 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.
“Our group is probably pretty excited that he’s here. We just want to make sure that he gets his work, he doesn’t sit too long and then he gets back out there and sees major league hitters, too,” Girardi said.
“I just think that, if you’re a player that’s being paid to play and you’re eligible, you’d show up. 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.”
The left-hander had been sidelined since May 13 with inflammation in the rotator cuff of his pitching shoulder.
While on his three-appearance rehab assignment, Chapman said it was difficult to see his team lose close games when he could have helped. The Yankees had lost five straight heading into Sunday’s game against the A’s.
He is encouraged the shoulder feels right at last and he is pain-free. And Chapman feels good about his velocity, so those 102-mph heaters might be coming soon.
“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 to lengthen your bullpen and make us better.”
Chapman 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.