Kevin Chapman has been perfect in save situations for the RedHawks. Pitching the ninth inning has helped solidify an inconsistent Oklahoma City bullpen and has solidified the 26-year-old righthander’s chances of returning to the majors when rosters expand in September.
“Winning is fun and being on the field when you win that’s a lot of fun,” Chapman said. “After you get the final out, everyone shakes hands. When you get back to the clubhouse they start blasting some music.”
The opposite result is the nightmare scenario for a closer. There’s a psychological challenge when a closer surrenders the lead after teammates have spent the first eight innings building a cushion.
“I haven’t (been a closer) my whole minor league career but I have done it here and there,” Chapman said. “The biggest thing is having a short memory. You go in there and give it everything you’ve got. Hopefully that’s good enough. If not you erase it and be ready your next game.”
Named the RedHawks Pitcher of the Month in July, Chapman is 9-for-9 in save opportunities, but he’s blown saves earlier in his career, when he learned having a short-memory mindset is essential.
“It’s easier said than done,” Chapman said. “It’s never a good feeling when you give up a lead no matter what inning it is but it’s going to happen sometimes to everyone. There’s something about the ninth inning that’s a little bit different but all relievers job are very similar no matter what inning it is.”
A reliever his entire pro career, Chapman has made 221 appearances in five pro seasons.
“You have to be ready every day,” Chapman said. “That’s the fun part. You never know going in which game you might pitch. When the phone rings everyone stops for a second, and sort of holds their breath. But it’s like riding a bike. The key is once you’ve done it a lot you know what to expect.”
Even though a closer pitches when the stakes are the highest, everyone in the bullpen is expected to come in and shut down the opponent.
“Whatever your role is you have to adjust, try to pitch the best you can and have fun with it,” Chapman said. “The key is to calm yourself down and pound strikes.”
That’s also easier said than done.
A fourth-round pick four years ago by Kansas City, Chapman most likely would return to a middle-inning role in the sixth or seventh but gaining experience as a closer is invaluable.
“It’s tougher in a save situation than the seventh or eighth so he’s in the best situation for him to develop in tight games,” said pitching coach Steve Webber. “When you’re under the gun you have to execute pitches. He’s pitched well because he’s had better command of his fastball.”
Relying a low 90s mph fastball, an effective curve and a change-up he’s working on, Chapman already has experienced some success in the majors. He set the Astros franchise record by not allowing an earned run in his first 13 major league appearances last season. He finished 1-1 with a save and a 1.77 ERA in 20 innings.
This season Chapman was roughed up with Houston, allowing seven runs in 5 2/3 innings, but overall he’s 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA in 26 major league innings.
“As a reliever there are a lot of different scenarios you’re thrown into,” Chapman said. “Any experience you gain in the different roles is valuable. When I was up last year I feel I showed I have some versatility. I pitched anywhere from the sixth to ninth inning depending on the situation. Being versatile is important.”