May 3, 2014
The Lansing Lugnuts had the unique opportunity to face a major league pitcher Thursday night in their game against the Dayton Dragons. The Lugnuts won 9-6 against the Cincinnati Reds affiliate, but the real thrill was Aroldis Chapman pitching the first inning for the Dragons. Chapman, who is quite arguably the hardest throwing left-hander in the game, faced three Lugnuts batters and although none of them reached base it was a memorable experience for each hitter he faced.
First to face Chapman was 2012 1st round pick D.J. Davis who is known to be an excellent fastball hitter. Davis grinded out an excellent at-bat which ended in being called out on strikes.
“Facing Chapman was a great experience,” Davis said with a smile. “It was a lefty-on-lefty matchup. I went to the plate knowing he’s basically a two pitch guy and I was thinking fastball all the way.”
“I fouled off a couple of his pitches which had a special feeling since he throws so hard,” explained Davis. “I’ve never faced a guy who can throw 100 mph from the left side.”
“I honestly don’t know how hitters get hits against him.”
Chapman faced utility infielder Jason Leblebijian next. Prior to his plate appearance Leblebijian talked to performance coach Steve Springer, a coach that appreciates quality at-bats. Leblebijian did just that, as he got to a full count before being called out on strikes.
“Facing Chapman was really cool,” Leblebijian said with a smile. “Chapman has the record for fastest fastball, so going up to the plate knowing who he is, you just want to swing and hope for the best.”
“When I was on deck I was trying to get the timing down,” Leblebijian recalls. “I was trying to stay calm and easy because if I didn’t it would’ve sped things up more. I received advice from Steve Springer. He said as early as you start normally with a pitcher, start even earlier than that. He said keep the heart rate low and don’t try to do too much, just stick to your approach.”
“I didn’t make contact with any of his pitches, but I got the count to 3-2 and he threw a beautiful low inside fastball to get me out,” explained Leblebijian. “You have to tip your cap to him for that pitch.”
Chapman’s third and final batter was 2012 supplemental 1st round pick Mitch Nay. The Lugnuts third baseman flew out for the final out. Nay went to the plate focused more on putting the ball in play and less worried about the velocity of the pitches he would be facing.
“Facing Chapman was a lot of fun. We don’t get to do that every day,” stated Nay. “I went to the plate with the approach if there’s a pitch to hit, I’ll try to hit it. I gave it my best shot and it was a lot of fun.”
“I didn’t talk to anybody before my at-bat,” stated Nay. “We all know Chapman and the kind of pitcher he is. Basically when I was at the plate I wanted to see his pitches first, so I could square it up.”
“When a guy throws hard you have to be focused on your timing more,” explained Nay. “Basically you have less time for error.”
Perhaps the next time these Lugnuts will face Chapman will be in the Majors.