CLEVELAND — If the Yankees were seeking a silver lining after their 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Friday night, at least one was obvious. With no lead to protect, they had no need for closer Aroldis Chapman, whose balky left knee will keep him from pitching in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
Chapman, who has been battling tendinitis since late May, bowed out of the midsummer exhibition earlier in the day in the hopes that five days of rest would keep his discomfort — which has forced him to wear a knee brace — from becoming something worse.
So if Chapman — who has pitched only once since he was lifted from last Saturday’s game in Toronto as a precautionary measure — has a few more off days, it is not the worst thing. Far more troubling, without a hint of consolation, was the way the Indians cuffed around starter Domingo German on Friday, knocking him out of the game with six runs before they had made an out in the fifth.
Far more regrettable for the Yankees was Aaron Judge’s being thrown out stealing as Aaron Hicks struck out to end the eighth inning. That left the Yankees with a trail of what-ifs after the next batter, Giancarlo Stanton, led off the ninth with a solo home run.
“Slow to the plate, you’re betting on a pitch in the zone being put into play there,” Manager Aaron Boone said. “But definitely something that I second-guessed a little bit.”
While any residue from their first loss to the Indians in five games will be quickly rinsed away, concerns over such a vital cog as Chapman are sure to linger. When the Yankees arrived here on Thursday, Chapman expressed hope that he would be able to pitch in the All-Star Game after being chosen for the first time since 2015. But he had a change of heart on Friday.
The decision had nothing to do with his pitching on Thursday — he said he felt fine in a flawless ninth inning that sealed the Yankees’ 7-4 victory. He just wanted to be prudent.
“The more I thought about it, it was just the smart thing to do,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “It will give me a little more time to help me get back.”
If the knee is responsible for shaving a few ticks off Chapman’s fastball — it has often traveled just below 100 miles per hour this season — it has not diminished his effectiveness. In fact, Chapman is in the midst of one of his best seasons; he is 3-0 with 25 saves in 26 chances and a 1.38 earned run average.
Still, knee injuries can be a tricky matter for pitchers, as the Indians know all too well. They announced Friday that their ace, Corey Kluber, had received an injection in his right knee and would miss the All-Star Game. Their best reliever, the left-hander Andrew Miller, has been out since late May with inflammation in his right knee and will head to Class AA Akron on Saturday to throw a simulated game.
A pitcher generates power from driving off the back leg, while the front leg bears the brunt of his driving the ball toward the plate. An injury to the back leg can sap a pitcher’s velocity, and one to the front leg can rob him of his command.
“Everybody kind of talks about the arm like that’s everything, but the reality is it’s a whole chain of events to throw a baseball,” Miller said. “When that front leg lands is when everything starts and takes off.”
But most dangerously, leg injuries can lead to arm problems if pitchers try to compensate. The discomfort in Kluber’s knee had led him to lower his arm during his delivery, and over his last four starts he allowed 15 earned runs in 22 innings.
“He was sinking on his back leg as opposed to pushing off and gliding through,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said.
Boone described Chapman as a “mechanical freak” because of how he efficiently uses his body to generate what for years has been the speediest fastball in baseball.
“You don’t want to get in a position where you’re compromising mechanics and then all of a sudden that can lead to other things,” Boone said, adding that the pitching coach Larry Rothschild and the Yankees trainers were monitoring Chapman carefully.
Chapman has made a few changes to his routine. A regular runner, he now does most of his cardio work on an elliptical machine. The knee bothers him when he has to run in short bursts, and not often when he is on the mound. He said that the knee brace had taken some getting used to, but that it gave him more support and allowed him to feel stable pushing off.
“I’m a pitcher who uses my legs a lot in my delivery,” he said. “I’m trying to find a balance.”
As for whether the discomfort will dissipate or remain a nuisance (or worse), even Chapman is unsure.
“The objective is to finally get better, and be at 100 percent,” he said. “For me to say right now that I’m going to be able to manage it the rest of the season is hard to say, because you never know. But as of right now, the focus is doing all the work I need to do.”
And if a few extra days of rest now mean that Chapman will be hearty and hale in October, that silver lining may look more like a brass ring.