When pitchers get struck in the head by line drives that come back up the middle, it's one of the scariest plays in sports. On Wednesday night in Surprise, Ariz., Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman became the latest to have that scare when a liner off the bat of Salvador Perez struck him in the face. The game was stopped in the sixth inning after the injury occurred.
The Reds said later Wednesday night that Chapman never lost consciousness, though he did sustain fractures above his left eye and his nose. The Cuban hurler was kept overnight at the hospital for further observation. The Reds expect to have a more detailed update on Thursday morning and in the coming days.
While Chapman's future and timetable to eventually return to the mound remain unknown, it's likely that he won't be on the Reds' 25-man roster when the team breaks Spring Training next week. With a few other injuries nagging the Cincinnati bullpen, the need for relief depth could become the focus of Bryan Price's staff as camp comes to a close.
A logical replacement for Chapman in the closer role is Jonathan Broxton, who had arm surgery last August but recently made his spring debut with the Reds. Broxton reported no issues after setting down the side in order in his first outing, and his extensive Major League experience as a closer makes him the clear favorite to take over should Chapman not appear on the Opening Day roster.
Beyond Broxton, though, the Reds could need to fill in the back end of their bullpen for their March 31 home opener with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Keeping that relief issue in mind, it's likely that some pitchers who may have been penciled in to join the Louisville Bats in April will stick with the big league club when they head east from Arizona. One of the candidates could easily be Jose "Jumbo" Diaz, whose weight loss in the offseason claimed headlines at the outset of spring camp. His work on the mound has taken it from there.
Diaz has been solid in his six outings with the Major League team this spring. He's thrown in six innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits and six walks. The 30-year-old righty has an electric fastball, which has undoubtedly helped him to post more strikeouts (seven) than innings pitched this spring. Last season, he led the Bats with 13 saves and posted a miniscule 1.66 ERA in 44 appearances.
Nick Christiani, who has played in Louisville for at least parts of the season since 2011, is another promising reliever who has made a strong case for a roster spot this spring. In five appearances with the Reds, he has only allowed one run on two hits, good for a 1.50 ERA. His spot on the 40-man roster could make him even more of a favorite, as the Reds would not have to designate an additional player to make room for him.
Other candidates for potentially vacant big league bullpen jobs include Lee Hyde and Trevor Bell, who also spent time with the Bats in 2013. Bell has yet to allow a run in Cactus League play through six outings. Perhaps more impressive is that the right hander has struck out eight and only walked one. As for Hyde, he's also pitched in six games and has only allowed one run on five hits.
Unlike Christiani, Hyde and Bell are not currently on the Reds' 40-man roster and would require a subsequent roster move to be added to the Major League club. Diaz isn't on the 40-man either, which could put off a Major League debut for him as well. Other relievers currently on the 40-man include Carlos Contreras and Pedro Beato. Contreras hasn't pitched above the Double-A level, while Beato has logged 70 Major League games with the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox.
If there is a silver lining in an injury to a star closer, it's that the Reds have plenty of promising options as the season nears. While some may require some roster maneuvering, there are moves to be made within the organization should it become necessary. In the wake of a scary injury to Chapman, those options should provide some measure of comfort.
Ready or not, with 11 days remaining until the 2014 regular season, the clock is now ticking on the Reds to find the right fit.