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Cuban Missile in Reds bullpen from outset

When he finished his first spring training mound session, throwing pitches at mind-boggling speeds, Aroldis Chapman exchanged his Reds jersey for a T-shirt that had a two-word motto across the front.

"Wreak Havoc," the shirt suggested.

Havoc? That's what happens when the ball leaves his left hand.

The Cuban defector dazzled last September when he brought his 105 mph fastball to the majors for the first time. Fans moved toward the bullpen and snapped photos when he'd warm up. He got standing ovations before he reached the mound.

Then, with his high leg kick and lanky stride, he'd break every known speed limit, earning the nickname "The Cuban Missile" during his brief big-league stay.

This year, he'll be on everybody's radar.

The defending NL Central champions plan to use Chapman in a more prominent role out of the bullpen this season. He'll help fill the set-up role vacated by left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who left as a free agent. The Reds consider it the next step in getting the 22-year-old ready for the rotation eventually.

"I want to be a starter, but I don't think about that," Chapman said after practice Thursday, speaking through translator Tomas Vera, a team trainer. "The job I have now is being a reliever. The day they want me to be a starter, I'll start thinking about it."

He's still got a lot to learn before he's ready for the rotation.

Chapman received a $30.25 million, six-year deal from the Reds before last season, when he opened in the minors and struggled as a starter. Sensing they could win the division, the Reds turned him into a reliever in the second half of the season and watched him dominate.

He went 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 15 relief appearances for Cincinnati, fanning 19 while giving up only nine hits. But those weren't the numbers that left the deepest impression. He threw 75 pitches that registered in triple-digits, including one at a record 105 mph and three at 104.

The fastball is already an urban legend. Now, it's the other stuff that needs to be polished.

"We just want him to be successful," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "You don't want it to be a disappointment if he comes in and gives you a 1-2-3 inning and he's throwing 93-97 mph. It's not all about him being some kind of a sideshow act — the fastest in history."

As a reliever, Chapman limits himself to a fastball and slider. The changeup needs a lot of work. He's also working on his approach to hitters and using his slider to better advantage.

"I think this year," he said, "is going to be a lot better for me."

Manager Dusty Baker dismisses suggestions he could be a dominant closer.

"Let's get this out of the way right now: I plan on using him like I used him last year, and we'll see how he progresses," Baker said. "How many appearances did this guy have last year? That's not a lot of experience, not at this level."

On the personal side, Chapman has made a lot of progress. He couldn't even find Cincinnati on a map when he defected, but chose the Reds in part because they have a large contingent of players and coaches from Latin America who could help him with the difficult transition.

He's clearly more relaxed this spring, taking the initiative to joke around in the clubhouse. He still prefers to use a translator, wary of saying something wrong in his new language. He was at ease Thursday giving a few glimpses into his personal life — he wears torn-up shorts under his baseball uniform for good luck, loves to watch soap operas on television and has taken a liking to American food.

"At the beginning, I just wanted to eat Cuban food, Cuban food," he said. "Now I eat everything. Now I like every kind of food, and I've been eating anything."

He spent the offseason training at his new home in Miami Beach, Fla., and went to the beach often.

"I think he aspires to be one of the guys," Price said. "I think he was — no pun intended — on an island, so to speak, last year in the sense he was not only the new guy, but struggling with coming over and needing to learn the language, to get acquainted."

During the offseason, Baker went to Cuba for a week as part of a diplomatic visit involving jazz music and tried to learn about Chapman's homeland, hoping to get some insights into the pitcher's life.

"He's still kind of a mystery to us a little bit," Baker said. "He's quiet, but he's also personable. You are curious about his background, but you don't want to pry. I know he must be homesick some because it's a beautiful place to be homesick about.

"I bought him some Cuban jazz stuff when I was there. I gave them to him yesterday. I'm going to show him some pictures, have him explain some stuff to me."

Chapman was touched.

"He was in my country and he brought things that made me really happy," he said. "I was really sentimental when he gave them to me."