By John Perrotto
Aroldis Chapman has always been a superhuman figure of sorts.
He was a ferocious boxer in his youth in Cuba, and when he picked up a baseball with his left hand for the first time as an 11-year-old on his island homeland, he threw it effortlessly and fast. Very fast.
Chapman used his live left arm to become a star on the Cuban national team before defecting in 2009 at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands. He celebrated his crossover to freedom by partying for four straight nights in Amsterdam, which, by all accounts, is not for the faint of heart.
Barely a year later, Chapman made it to the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds -- with whom he had signed a five-year, $30-million contract, which was then a record for a Cuban player -- as a relief pitcher and wowed everybody with his fastball that topped out at an amazing 105 mph on a pitch to the Padres' Tony Gwynn Jr. at Petco Park in San Diego.
Chapman has been known to drive nearly as swiftly as fastball behind the wheel of his black Lamborghini. He was clocked at 93 mph in 2012 by police outside Columbus, Ohio.
So it would seem Chapman will have no reservations when he returns to game action sometime this upcoming week with one of the Reds' farm clubs as he continues to work his way back from the horrific night of March 19 at Surprise, Ariz.
While pitching against the Royals in a Cactus League exhibition game, Chapman was struck in the face by a line drive off the bat of Salvador Perez. Chapman was carried off the field on a stretcher then underwent two and a half hours of surgery to repair broken orbital bones around his eye and a broken nose.
Truly understanding what goes through Chapman's mind is difficult because he speaks to the media only in Spanish with the help of a translator. Even most of his Chapman's teammates admit to not knowing him well, as he generally stays to himself.
However, Chapman has showed a few small hints that he might be human after all, and of having just a bit of trepidation about returning to game action as he gets to prepared to begin his rehab assignment in the minors.
When Chapman threw to hitters for the first time on Wednesday during a pregame batting practice session in Pittsburgh, he asked to pitch from behind a protective screen. Reds manger Bryan Price, who was Chapman's pitching coach before taking over as manager, was not surprised by the request and actually preferred that his closer use the screen.
"It's different when you're facing your teammates," Price said. "You're going to throw more pitches away and over the plate because you don't want to hit them. When you throw to the outer half of the plate, those pitches tend to be hit back through the box more often."
Chapman said to reporters a few days before the throwing session in Pittsburgh that he planned to throw only down and in to hitters in the future to avoid balls hit back through the box. It seemed like he was kidding, but things tend to get lost in translation at times despite the best efforts of Reds assistant athletic trainer Tomas Vera and backup catcher Brayan Pena, who usually serve as Chapman's translators.
"He pitches inside quite a bit as it is now with his fastball and slider," Price said. "It's an effective way for a guy like him to pitch because when you're throwing 100 mph inside, getting the barrel of the bat on the ball is a hard thing for hitters to do. We're not looking to prevent balls hit back through the middle. We're trying to prevent a base hit, a run-scoring hit, things of that nature."
Pena was one of three Reds who stepped into the batter's box against Chapman in his batting practice session, along with infielder Neftali Soto and thrill-seeking 61-year-old third base coach Steve Smith, who also was once a participant on the The Amazing Race.
Price said he thought that Chapman looked to be in midseason form, while Pena said Chapman was "electrifying."
"He was attacking the strike zone, using both sides of the plate," Pensa said. "He did great."
On Saturday, Chapman threw live batting practice again -- this time wtihout a screen -- and tossed 43 pitches, saying afterward that he thinks he needs one more session before making a minor-league appearance.
The Reds could certainly use Chapman. While Jonathan Broxton has done an admirable job filling in as the closer, Chapman has the stuff to be dominant each time he takes the mound, as he converted 38 of 43 save opportunities in each of the last two seasons.
Chapman will be back in closing situations soon enough for the Reds, perhaps within the next two weeks. He says he is comfortable -- and, remember, this is a guy who was posting pictures of the stitches from his surgery on social media just two days after getting skulled by Perez's line drive. Yet even Chapman is curious to see exactly how he reacts when he starts pitching in games that matters.
"Throwing-wise, I feel like nothing ever happened; my arm feels great," Chapman said. "I'm looking forward to going back out there and seeing what happens. Nobody knows what's going to happen."
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John Perrotto has covered professional baseball since 1988 for such outlets as USA TODAY, The Sports Xchange, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and the Beaver County (Pa.) Times. You can find more of his work on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.