Cuban Missile in Reds bullpen from outset

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GOODYEAR, ARIZ. (AP) - When he finished his first spring training mound session, throwing pitches at mind-boggling speeds, Aroldis Chapman exchanged his Reds jersey for a T-shirt that had a two-word motto across the front.

“Wreak Havoc,” the shirt suggested.

Havoc? That’s what happens when the ball leaves his left hand.

The Cuban defector dazzled last September when he brought his 105 mph fastball to the majors for the first time. Fans moved toward the bullpen and snapped photos when he’d warm up. He got standing ovations before he reached the mound.

Then, with his high leg kick and lanky stride, he’d break every known speed limit, earning the nickname “The Cuban Missile” during his brief big-league stay.

This year, he’ll be on everybody’s radar.

The defending NL Central champions plan to use Chapman in a more prominent role out of the bullpen this season. He’ll help fill the set-up role vacated by left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who left as a free agent. The Reds consider it the next step in getting the 22-year-old ready for the rotation eventually.

“I want to be a starter, but I don’t think about that,” Chapman said after practice Thursday, speaking through translator Tomas Vera, a team trainer. “The job I have now is being a reliever. The day they want me to be a starter, I’ll start thinking about it.”

He’s still got a lot to learn before he’s ready for the rotation.

Chapman received a $30.25 million, six-year deal from the Reds before last season, when he opened in the minors and struggled as a starter. Sensing they could win the division, the Reds turned him into a reliever in the second half of the season and watched him dominate.

He went 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 15 relief appearances for Cincinnati, fanning 19 while giving up only nine hits. But those weren’t the numbers that left the deepest impression. He threw 75 pitches that registered in triple-digits, including one at a record 105 mph and three at 104.

The fastball is already an urban legend. Now, it’s the other stuff that needs to be polished.

“We just want him to be successful,” pitching coach Bryan Price said. “You don’t want it to be a disappointment if he comes in and gives you a 1-2-3 inning and he’s throwing 93-97 mph. It’s not all about him being some kind of a sideshow act _ the fastest in history.”

As a reliever, Chapman limits himself to a fastball and slider. The changeup needs a lot of work. He’s also working on his approach to hitters and using his slider to better advantage.

“I think this year,” he said, “is going to be a lot better for me.”

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