TAMPA — Yankees manager Aaron Boone was conducting a live interview with the YES Network as closer Aroldis Chapman took the mound in the fifth inning on Saturday.
When Chapman struck out the first hitter he faced on three pitches to start his outing, getting Pirates right fielder Troy Stokes Jr. swinging on an 0-2 splitter, Boone chuckled in disbelief.
"Wow," he said. "That's gross."
For a pitcher that's capable of consistently pumping fastballs north of 100 mph, any off-speed pitch will keep opposing hitters off balance. Chapman already throws a slider, but the left-hander has been working on this new splitter dating back to last season.
"It's been great," Boone said in a Zoom call after the Yankees closed out a 7-5 win. "Even going back to last year, we felt like it was real and something that he could certainly incorporate."
Clocking in just under 90 mph, Chapman's splitter drops off a table, sharply fading down and away from right-handed hitters. He doesn't throw the pitch too often, but he's starting to use it more and more this spring.
"Feeling really really good with it," Chapman said via the Yankees' interpreter on Wednesday following his spring debut. "Overall I think it was good movement and feeling good with it."
At this point in the season, pitchers will sometimes mess around with a new pitch, experimenting in games that don't matter. Then, once the regular season begins, they retire the pitch, waiting until they're comfortable using it in a game that actually counts.
This isn't an experiment. Boone believes that Chapman's splitter is "disgusting" and has the ability to keep the closer dominant throughout the second half of his career in the big leagues.
"It's a pitch that he used in the playoffs last year when it was a very new pitch," Boone said. "So I think that speaks to the quality of the pitch and the confidence he had really in its infancy. Then, I think really getting to hone it a little bit this winter and then carry it now in the spring. You watch him, it's like a pitch he's been throwing all his life. Everything lines up for it to be a real factor for him."
So, what do Chapman's teammates think of the split?
Fellow left-hander Justin Wilson thinks the rest of the league needs to "watch out."
"He's one of the guys in the league that could go out there and throw all fastballs and still have very good success," Wilson said on Saturday. "For him to better his game is really impressive and it's pretty darn good."
Another reliever, Darren O'Day, revealed that he's watched Chapman throw the pitch while playing catch this spring. Judging by how Chapman's throwing partner—reliever Luis Cessa—has struggled to keep the pitch in front of him, O'Day thinks the splitter must be pretty good.
"Poor Cessa has to try to catch it. It turns from a game of catch into a game of fetch," O'Day said. "Chappie's trying to get better and that's the sign of a really great player."
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