BOSTON — Less than 24 hours after Aroldis Chapman’s latest poor outing, manager Joe Girardi stripped the hard-throwing but ineffective lefty of his closer’s duties.
“I will use him at any point, similar to what we are doing with our other relievers,” Girardi said before the Yankees-Red Sox game Saturday night at Fenway Park.
Girardi didn’t name a full-time closer, but David Robertson and Dellin Betances have experience in that spot. Robertson, who is 14-for-16 in save chances this year, has 132 career saves. Betances, who filled in for Chapman when the former closer was on the DL with a shoulder problem, is 8-for-11 this year and has 30 career saves.
Considering the Yankees invested five years and $86 million in the 29-year-old Chapman last December, Girardi’s move is a bold one. Nevertheless, the manager is running a team that started the action Saturday five games back of the AL East-leading Red Sox and had watched Chapman struggle against their blood rivals last Sunday night in The Bronx and Friday night at Fenway Park. In between, Chapman had a tough time with the Mets on Tuesday, when he tweaked a hamstring on the final out.
In Chapman’s past four outings, he had two saves and a flush. In 4 ¹/₃ innings, he allowed five hits, seven earned runs, five walks, struck out five, gave up two homers, had a 14.54 ERA and hitters were batting .313 with a 1.166 OPS.
On Friday night, Chapman gave up two runs and two hits in the ninth to turn a 7-6 deficit into a 9-6 hole.
Girardi said Chapman told the team he is healthy and took the news in stride.
“He said he is here to help us win, whatever it takes,” Girardi said of Chapman, who has 16 saves in 20 chances this season. “He knows he needs to get back on track, and he has scuffled a little bit, but he said, ‘I am willing to do anything.’ ”
The reasons Chapman suddenly went into a deep ditch are puzzling because before veering off the road, he was dominating. From July 8 to Aug. 5, Chapman appeared in 13 games in which the Yankees went 11-2. He was 3-1 with six saves in seven chances, allowed eight hits in 12 ²/₃ innings, whiffed 15, walked six and had a 1.42 ERA. Hitters batted an anemic .178 and had a .497 OPS.
Girardi said he believes 100-mph fastballs aren’t as rare as they used to be and hitters are more familiar with facing that sort of velocity. It’s an opinion not shared by everybody in the game, but the manager said Chapman’s location hasn’t been crisp, either.
“I think he needs to locate better, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “A lot of times, when he is down in the zone, they don’t swing and they take, and I think that is pretty important.”
Since Girardi dropped the news after the Yankees’ clubhouse was closed to the media, what Chapman felt about the move wasn’t known. Nevertheless, he had to understand a team in a pennant race can’t summon a closer and immediately start working the rosary beads.
Though Girard said he firmly believes Chapman will pitch his way back into the closer’s role, there is a chance others will pitch well enough in the ninth that Chapman remains as an arm in front of the closer instead of the closer.
Perhaps if it were June or even July, Girardi might have been more willing to see if Chapman could escape the deep funk that has smothered him. But it’s late August, and time is running out on the Yankees’ chances of catching the Red Sox.
So he made the only move he could, and that was to strip Chapman of the prestigious — and expensive — role of closer for the good of the other 24 men on the roster.