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For the last month, the spotlight has been bright on Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees closer’s sudden struggles after a dominating start to the season have been dissected and analyzed every which way. The 33-year-old who has been one of the most dominant relievers in the game is not used to or comfortable with this kind of spotlight, but he will use it.
In fact, Chapman will use any platform he has right now, including at last week’s All-Star Game, to speak to and support those in his native Cuba who are demonstrating against the communist regime that rules the island nation.
“The All Star Game is watched all over the world, especially here in the United States, and sending a message and making it clear for a lot of people that don’t understand (the situation) or feel that Cuba is a paradise — and it’s not a paradise. There’s a lot of hunger. There’s a lot of oppression of the people in Cuba,” Chapman said through Yankees interpreter Marlon Abreu. “There’s a lot of people on the street right now protesting and they’re asking for help from the United States, which is a strong and strong country and one of the leaders of the world. You can see them asking for help. So I thought it was a great moment to ask for help and send that message and bring awareness to the people that don’t know.”
Chapman, who said he had told American League team manager Kevin Cash he did not need to pitch in his eighth All-Star Game, wrote SOS CUBA and “Patria y Vida,” which means homeland and life a play off the Cuban Communist Party’s motto of “homeland or death,” on his All-Star cap. So did Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis García.
Cuba, which has been under communist rule since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, is going through its worst economic crisis in decades. That has been exacerbated by a surge in coronavirus cases coupled with a low vaccination rate.
Thousands on the island have been protesting on the streets, chanting “We want freedom” and “We want vaccines.”
Chapman, who defected while in Amsterdam with the Cuban National team in 2009, is encouraged by the very rare public demonstrations against the Cuban regime.
“I just wanted to send a message of hope to them to keep at it,” Chapman said. “The regime has been ruling the country for over 60 years, and so just giving them hope. Hopefully a lot of people are paying attention and it helps to make a change eventually with communism in the country.”
That was a main reason Chapman went to Denver last week amid his career-worst slump.
“I was having doubts about pitching in the All Star Game. So I eventually spoke to the manager and told him, I don’t feel in a really good position to participate in and pitch. And to be honest, one of the reasons why I decided to attend the festivities was because of my family, they pushed me to go. And I also understood that it was a good opportunity to send a message to my Cuban community,” Chapman said. " A lot of people were watching everywhere, and I felt that it was a good opportunity to send out a positive message to all my fellow Cubans.”
After pitching to a 0.39 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 11 walks in his first 23 appearances this season — over 23.1 innings pitched, Chapman has given up 14 earned runs in his last 11 appearances, which also dates back to the beginning of MLB’s crackdown on the sticky substances pitchers use for better grips and spin rates. He’s walked 12 and struck out nine and gotten through just 6.2 innings in those 10 appearances.
“It’s even more difficult because we, as a team, haven’t been playing to what we expect of ourselves as a team. ….I’ve gone through rough patches throughout my career, and it’s expected when you play this game, but right now when every game counts so much and when you don’t do your job it usually means you’re gonna end up losing the game, that’s the very difficult part of it,” Chapman said of this slump. “Definitely, probably the toughest moment in my career for sure.”
Chapman took another positive step out of the slump in Sunday, night’s 9-1 win over the Red Sox. He pitched his third straight scoreless appearance and his first 1-2-3 clean inning since June 15, albeit not in a high-leverage situation.
“He was good. If we had a safe situation tonight he was closing the game. So that’s where I’m at with it and I thought after the first hitter that’s the best version of Chappie we’ve seen in a while,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Those last three hitters it was on time in his delivery, it was driving his fastball through the zone. It was a Wipeout split he got for the one strikeout so it was it was good to see him really get into his delivery and and really execute the way he’s he’s obviously capable of.”