GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Who can fill the shoes of injured closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman?
That's the question Reds fans across the country are asking after the team's flame-throwing closer was struck in the face by a batted ball Wednesday night by Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
Chapman appears in good spirits in a series of photos he shared on social media Friday, one of which shows the stitches that line his head after a titanium plate was inserted to stabilize the fracture to his eye and nose.
Reds team doctor Tim Kremchek said Thursday that the Cuban Missile could be ready to pitch in mid to late May. He "absolutely" will be able to pitch this season, Kremchek said, but is likely to miss between six to eight weeks.
But that's little consolation to Reds fans who are wondering who will slam the door shut on opposing hitters in the ninth inning of games until he returns.
"As a bullpen we just got to step up," said Jonathan Broxton, one of the likely favorites to take on the closer's role while Chapman is on the DL.
Despite having 111 career saves, only four of which came with the Reds, Broxton knows it will take the entire bullpen to fill in for Chapman's All-Star-caliber performance.
"We've got some big shoes to fill, but we got the guys down there that can do it, too," said the nine-year veteran who could split time with J.J. Hoover and Alfredo Simon at the tail-end of games.
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While the team's bullpen is full of big arms to choose from, the decision by Reds first-year manager Bryan Price and Jeff Pico might be determined by who's healthy enough to take on the challenge.
"Whatever is going to happen, we're going to have 25 guys here at the end of spring training, and that's going to be the hand that we're dealt," Price said. "And we're going to go out there and we're going to compete and bust our tails to be excellent. Who those 25 guys are at this point in time, I don't know. I don't have any idea."
For instance, there's no guarantee Broxton, 29, will be healthy when the season begins March 31 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The right-hander is returning from an injury to his forearm that could land him on the disabled list to start the season.
"Our goal from the get go was Opening Day, and just got to continue to go day by day and make sure everything is feeling fine and hopefully I'll be there," said Broxton who is expected to pitch on Friday.
With the likelihood of the right-hander being ready in doubt, Hoover is the odds on favorite to begin the season in the closer role.
Hoover, 26, is a hard-throwing righty with experience pitching in clutch situations at the end of games. In his two seasons in Cincinnati he has finished 29 games and earned four saves, including three last season.
He has a career 2.61 ERA and has the ability to punch-out hitters at a high rate, averaging 9.1 strikeouts per innings to only 3.8 walks. His 1.066 WHIP (walk and hits per innings pitched) isn't much higher than Chapman's 1.022 number.
However, Hoover is still young and a somewhat unproven commodity. Even though his ERA is just 1.50 this spring, he has struggled with command and hasn't overpowered hitters the way he did last season.
In six appearances this spring he has an 0-1 record with five walks and only three strikeouts in six innings pitched (32 batters faced).
The Reds probably would have considered giving Simon a chance at earning the interim spot if it weren't for the injuries to the starting rotation.
Simon, 33, has 19 career saves, 17 of which came with Baltimore in 2010. But he has been used up and down the pitching rotation for Orioles and Reds over the past few seasons.
Even though Simon was predominantly a setup innings specialist in Cincinnati last season, pitching in 63 games (20 finished games) and earning a 2.87 ERA, the team has stretched out his innings this spring with injury concerns to Mat Latos (likely to begin season on DL) and Homer Bailey (right groin strain).
Simon has started in all five of his appearances this Spring, going 1-2 with a 4.42 ERA in 18 1/3 innings of work.
The team would have liked to utilize the services of lefty pitcher Sean Marshall, who the club signed in 2012 to sure up its bullpen after the departure of closer Francisco Cordero who had 150 saves over seasons in Cincinnati.
Marshall, 31, one of the best setup men in baseball while with the Chicago Cubs, was momentarily named the Reds’ new closer in 2012 after Ryan Madson went down with a season-ending injury and Chapman's role with the team hadn't been determined.
Despite losing his job to Chapman that season, Marshall pitched well, earning nine saves and a 2.51 ERA in 73 appearances.
Marshall hasn't pitched at all during the 2014 Spring Training after missing much of the 2013 season due to injuries.
The southpaw is said
to be dealing with issues surrounding his left shoulder. At the beginning of March he was once again dealt with tendonitis in his throwing shoulder. He dealt with the same issue at periods last season as well, limiting him to just 16 appearances.
Price doesn't have a timetable for determining who will take over the closer role.
"I haven't really thought at all about the layout of the bullpen. That will come in time. At this point in time, the focus is really on Aroldis' health."