Ottavino Knows Little Things = Big Results
SCOTTSDALE, Az. – Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino remembers every agonizing pitch he threw last season.
Nightmares aren’t forgotten that easy.
It won’t happen again. Ottavino won’t let it.
Ottavino is, after all, an honest self-evaluator. That’s not always easily. It was especially tough last winter.
He had come back on July 5 in the 2016 season from Tommy John surgery with an impressive abbreviated effort, throwing only 27 innings but striking out 35, walking only seven and allowing only 18 hits.
All seemed well.
But it wasn’t. Coming back for the full season in 2017 things never got untracked. Oh, the arm was fine. He appeared in 63 games. The results, however, weren’t He still struck out 63 batters in 53 1/3 innings. He only gave up 48 hits. But he walked 39 batters, hit four and gave up 30 runs – all earned.
How bad were things? So bad that the veteran was left off the Rockies roster for their wild-card playoff game with the D-Backs, and he admits, rightfully so.
“I knew I didn’t deserve to be in the game at the end of the season,” he said. “I have pride. I think I have something to add, but I was not mad at the decision. I was made at myself for letting it happen. I wasn’t going to let it happen again. That was my responsibility.”
It is a responsibility that Ottavino took seriously.
He never did take that month or so to regroup in the aftermath of the 2017 season. There was too much work to be done to get things back in order for the 2018 season.
“There were four areas I wanted to address in the off-season,” said Ottavino. “First I needed to get stronger again. I wasn’t in the shape after (the Tommy John surgery) I needed to be in. No. 2 I worked on my delivery to make it so it was not as extreme as it became. I have always been a crossbody style, but not that extreme.
“Third I wanted to work on my consistency with my hard breaking ball, the cutter/slider. And four I wanted to retain my focus again. Last year I felt my focus was not where it needed to be.”
It’s early in the spring.
Right now, however, Ottavino is confident he is back, and from early indications manager Buddy Black agrees.
“He knows what needs to happen,” said Black. “Otto is very mature in evaluating himself and addressing what needs to be addressed. He will be a huge part of that bullpen we’ve put together.”
Last year was Black’s first year managing Ottavino, but he saw more than enough of Ottavino when he was in the opposing dugout for the Padres
It was vintage Ottavino in the 2013-14 seasons. Called on in relief in 126 times he compiled a 2.89 ERA His 2.64 ERA in 2013 was the seventh lowest by a reliever in the Rockies 25-year existence. He struck out 148 batters in 143 1/3 innings and allowed only 140 hits while walking just 47 batters.
The difference from last year? Simple. The walk ratio.
And the mental drain.
“I was mentally fried to pieces,” he said. “I was going through the motions. I had so many bad habits. When I first came (to the Rockies) Jimmy Wright (former bullpen coach) worked with me on the mental approach, on locking in on a target and when you do that it becomes easier and easier.”
Last year, though it was difficult.
This year Ottavino knows it can be fun, again.
“To be a fair evaluator you have to look at when you have success,” he said. “You look at what you did then and what you do (during the struggles). You look at what you did to get away from where you need to be.”
And it’s not always a quick fix.
Last April, Ottavino was as good as he could be. He allowed two runs in 12 2/3 innings giving up eight hits, walking five and striking out 15. But then came May and there went Ottavino’s season. In his first appearance he walked three of four batters he faced, and after that were spurts of success but they were outweighed by his struggles to throw strikes.
Nothing was as haunting as a June 25 game at Dodger Stadium. Ottavino got the call with two out in the bottom of the seventh, a 6-4 lead, runners on second and third and a 6-4 lead. By the time he departed with two out in the eighth the Dodgers had scored six runs, four of them on wild pitches.
“When you have had success for a long period of time you get used to it and when you start to fail the emotions get to you,” Ottavino admitted. “I am a realist. I knew I was bad. I knew I didn’t deserve to be in there at the game’s end.
“For a long time I was good and the way I did it was by doing the little things over and over for a long period of time,” he said. “I did not do those things last year.”
It won’t happen again. Guaranteed. The strikeout ratio and hits-to-innings-pitched show that when he threw strikes, even last year, he got outs. As Dizzy Dean used to say, “walks will haunt.”
And they did haunt Ottavino.