A return to form by Aroldis Chapman would be a significant late-July addition for the Yankees.
As the Yankees scan the trade market, their fireballing lefty is beginning to make a case that he belongs in higher-leverage innings again.
Chapman, who has been relegated mostly to the middle innings since his return from the injured list because of a lack of effectiveness and control, pitched his third straight perfect frame in the Yankees’ 8-2 victory over the Royals, on Saturday afternoon in The Bronx.
The former closer entered in relief of Nestor Cortes in the sixth inning and looked like he belonged in the ninth. Chapman needed four pitches to blow away Hunter Dozier with a stikeout, then he got ahead of Vinnie Pasquantino before the Royals rookie flew out to left. Chapman made Michael A. Taylor look silly, with the veteran feebly waving at Chapman’s heat for strike two before he froze on a splitter for the inning-ending strikeout.
Chapman broke 100 mph three times, which must look especially blazing following Cortes’ low-90s fastballs.
Since a three-run, two-wild-pitch implosion in which he recorded just one out in Baltimore on July 22, Chapman has begun to win back the trust of manager Aaron Boone and has not been touched in his past three outings.
“I’ll go back further than that. I go back to Pittsburgh,” the manager said of July 5 and 6 outings in which Chapman held the Pirates hitless and scoreless in two innings. “He’s throwing his fastball for strikes again, and I think it’s delivery-related.”
Boone said Chapman has been tweaking his mechanics for additional consistency and to find the zone more.
The results have been there, but so has the stuff: His velocity has been ticking up, and Chapman threw his fastest pitch of the season (101.9 mph) Friday night in a win over the Royals.
Just as importantly, Chapman has not walked a batter in the short span. Left Achilles tendinitis sidelined him in late May and all of June, and he returned on July 2, before his control did. He issued six walks in his first four innings off the injured list and did not have an argument to reclaim his closer job, which Clay Holmes has nailed down.
The tweaked delivery has “given me much better command,” Chapman, who will be a free agent at season’s end, said through interpreter Marlon Abreu. “I’ve been able to spot [my fastball] and use it more often.”
The Yankees’ bullpen entered Saturday as the second best in baseball with a 2.89 ERA, which only shrunk. Clarke Schmidt followed Chapman with three scoreless innings and now has thrown seven straight without allowing a run.
The Yankees — who may add Zack Britton (elbow surgery) late in the season, but recently lost Michael King (also elbow surgery) — will have to decide by Tuesday whether the bullpen needs more help.
Perhaps a large reinforcement — playoff-tested and with 315 career saves — will come from within the organization.
“We’re really encouraged by what we continue to see from [Chapman],” Boone said.