New York Yankees

Yankees’ Chapman feels right at home back in pinstripes

27 May 2016: New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) delivers a pitch in the 9th inning of the MLB regular season game between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

TAMPA — The party may still be going on in Chicago, but it is over for Aroldis Chapman.

It is not that Chapman does not appreciate his place in history as a hired gun who helped the Chicago Cubs win the World Series last season for the first time since 1908. Acquired from the New York Yankees on July 23, the hard-throwing left-handed closer solidified the Cubs’ bullpen.

However, Chapman is back with the Yankees after signing a five-year, $86 million contract as a free agent in the offseason. It is the largest deal ever given to a relief pitcher.

“Last year was fun and a great memory but I’m starting to work on this season,” Chapman said through a translator Wednesday before Yankees pitchers and catchers held their first spring training workout at Steinbrenner Field.

“I’m looking forward to this season. I think we have a great bullpen again and a team that has a chance to win a lot of games.”

Chapman served a 30-game suspension to begin last season for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy and then was part of an outstanding bullpen trio that included left-hander Andrew Miller and right-hander Dellin Betances.

Yet general manager Brian Cashman broke the relief corps up in July when it seemed New York had little chance of reaching the postseason. In addition to trading Chapman, the Yankees dealt Miller to the Indians; he helped Cleveland reach the World Series, where they lost to the Cubs in seven games.

Despite being traded, the Yankees were at the top of Chapman’s list when he became a free agent in November. He appreciated management and his teammates standing behind him last season after he was suspended.

“I was new here and they didn’t know me but they treated me very well,” Chapman said. “I liked it here. I was comfortable here. If I had the chance to come back, I was going to take it.”

Chapman did and will now with team with Betances and right-hander Tyler Clippard at the back end of the bullpen.

New York Yankees Pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) [9012] delivers a pitch to the plate during the ninth inning of the Major League Baseball game between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. New York defeated Cleveland 5-4. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Betances has led all major-league relievers in strikeouts each of the last of the three seasons and could close for many teams. Clippard has a stellar 2.95 ERA over his 10-year-career.

The Yankees will likely rely on their bullpen heavily, at least early in the season, as the rotation has questions marks.

Opening Day starter Masahiro Tanaka, left-hander CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will fill the first three spots while veteran Adam Warren is competing with youngsters Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa for two openings.

That leads to the question of whether manager Joe Girardi might aggressively use the big three much in the manner that the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and Indians’ Terry Francona did in last year’s postseason and have them to pitch multiple innings.

The answer is, in most instances, no.

“All three have shown the ability to get more than three outs in a game, but you can’t do that all season,” Girardi said. “It’s not like the postseason. They aren’t as many off days and you’re managing for 162 games. If you use those guys for multiple innings too many times during the regular season, there won’t be any postseason because your bullpen will be shot.

“Ideally, I’d like to use them one inning each to close out a game.”

Chapman expressed his displeasure at Maddon using him for multiple innings of five occasions during last year’s postseason, including each of the last three games of the World Series when the Cubs rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the best-of-seven series.

Chapman was asked to get eight outs to close out a 3-2 victory in Game 5.

However, Chapman declined to get into any controversy on the first day of a new season.

“I feel fine,” he said. “I’m ready to go. It was fun winning a World Series last year and now I want to win one with the Yankees. That’s my goal.”

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