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Aroldis Chapman eager to help Pirates elbow their way into playoff race in whatever role they need

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Aroldis Chapman isn't in Pittsburgh to take David Bednar's job.

The seven-time All-Star closer is happy to fill whatever bullpen role a team finally ready to win sooner rather than later needs, even if that means serving in a set-up role to Bednar, himself a two-time All-Star.

“We haven’t discussed it yet but it’s just something I’m pretty easy going about,” Chapman said via a translator after his $10.5 million, one-year contract was announced Wednesday. "There’s just no issue for me. I’m flexible and I know that there’s a closer here and a very good one at that.”

The 35-year-old, who turns 36 at the end of February, was one of the best relievers during his prime with Cincinnati and the New York Yankees. He evolved into more of an eighth-inning role over the last three seasons while pitching for the Yankees, Kansas City and the Texas Rangers.

Asked whether he still considers himself a closer, Chapman shrugged.

“When I started off my career, I wasn’t a closer,” he said. "I was a sixth, seventh, eighth-inning guy. A couple years with the Reds and I really got that opportunity to be a closer. Now, I just consider myself someone who can really adapt to what I need to do. I’m a pitcher who can adjust to whatever is needed from me.”

Chapman is 50-40 with a 2.53 ERA and 321 saves spread across 14 seasons. The hard-throwing left-hander has won a pair of World Series, first with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 and the Texas Rangers last fall. His average fastball velocity of 99.0 mph was his highest since 2017, an uptick he attributed to a commitment to training after a poor 2022 season with New York.

The signing came as a bit of a surprise by the Pirates, who annually have among the lowest payrolls. Chapman gives them a proven veteran in front of Bednar and — if Pittsburgh finds itself out of the mix by the trade deadline — a potentially inviting bargaining chip.

Chapman — who battled the Pirates for six years early in his career with Cincinnati — is optimistic Pittsburgh is ready to contend after posting a 15-win improvement from 2022 (61-100) to 2023 (76-86).

“It’s a young team and they seem really thirsty to win and I’m an athlete who likes to compete,” Chapman said. "So being here with a team who really wants to get in this division race and start winning was good for me.”

Chapman and Bednar met briefly recently, which only made Chapman more anxious to report to Pirates City in Bradenton, Florida for the start of spring training in a couple of weeks.

He will also reunite with Pittsburgh star designated hitter Andrew McCutchen, a rival when they were on opposing teams a decade ago, including an incident where Chapman hit McCutchen with a 101 mph fastball, a circumstance that he said is “part of life in baseball.”

Any hard feelings are now long gone, with Chapman calling the Pirates icon “an excellent person, an excellent ballplayer.”

It's something Chapman believes he can now say about himself. He was suspended 30 games by Major League Baseball in 2016 for his role in an incident with his then-girlfriend the previous year, though no legal charges were filed.

Chapman said he's a “different person now” and a “better person” than I was. He also wants to use his story to make sure others don't make the same missteps.

“It’s something that when I get a chance to work with younger players, it’s something I share,” he said. “So it’s hopefully something they don’t make the same mistakes and they can learn from that experience, which I have.”

___ AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb