Adam Ottavino

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Adam Robert Ottavino

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Adam Ottavino was selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 30th round of the 2003 amateur draft but elected to attend Northeastern University instead. He was then chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 2006 amateur draft. He was signed by scout Kobe Perez and made his pro debut that year with the State College Spikes, where he went 2-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 6 starts. He was then promoted to the Swing of the Quad Cities and made 8 starts there, going 2-3 with a 3.44 ERA. He spent 2007 with the Palm Beach Cardinals and was 12-8 with a 3.08 ERA and 128 strikeouts, earning a spot on the Florida State League All-Star team.

Ottavino made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 2010. He pitched 5 times, including 3 starts, that season, but his record was 0-2 with an ERA of 8.46. After spending all of 2011 in the minor leagues, he was placed on waivers at the end of spring training in 2012, his career seemingly a bust. However he caught a break as he was picked up by the Colorado Rockies, who needed some bullpen help, and he did well in 53 relief appearances, going 5-1, 4.56 in 79 innings. He had an even better season in 2013, when he lowered his ERA to 2.64 in 51 games and 78 1/3 innings while going 1-3. In 2014, he jumped to 75 games but only 65 innings, as his role changed from generic middle reliever to set-up man for closer LaTroy Hawkins. He was 1-4, 3.60 and picked up his first career save that season.

He started the 2015 season very strong with the Rockies, giving up no runs on 3 hits over his first 10 appearances, while picking up 3 saves and a win. He struck out 13 batters and walked only 2. Hawkins faltered early, and Ottavino took over the closer duties from him and did well in his first few outings but his season was ended by an elbow injury. He had to undergo Tommy John surgery. After the season, even though a date for his return to the mound was still uncertain, he signed a three-year contract extension with the Rockies, worth $10.4 million. He had spent some of the time while recovering from the surgery in producing a short documentary film about the procedure and his rehabilitation.

He was able to make it back to a major league mound on July 5, 2016 and pitched 34 times that season. His record was 1-3, 2.67 with 7 saves and 35 strikeouts in 27 innings. Before the 2017 season, the Rockies signed free agent closer Greg Holland, sending Adam back to the role of set-up man. He did very well in April, with an ERA of 1.42 in 12 games, then slowed down a bit in the next few weeks. On June 25h, he had a nightmare outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers, as he made two wild pitches in the 7th, leading to three runs (two runners scored on the second will offering), then uncorked two more in the 8th, leading to two more runs. He ended up giving up 6 runs in only one inning and was charged with the Rockies' 12-6 loss. His ERA shot up from 3.08 to 4.94 because of that counter-performance. He finished the season at 2-3, 5.06 in 63 games, with 39 walks issued in 53 1/3 innings being the main cause of his troubles. In 2018, he bounced back with a very solid season, going 6-4, 2.43 in 75 games, with 6 saves. In his first postseason appearance, he gave up a run in one inning of work in the Wild Card Game against the Chicago Cubs on October 2nd. He came into the game in relief of Kyle Freeland with two out and a runner on first in the 7th and trying to protect a 1-0 lead. He proceeded to issue a wild pitch and a walk before Tommy La Stella reached on catcher's interference to load the bases, as he had trouble getting on the same wavelength with catcher Chris Iannetta who had come in at the same time as he had. He managed to get out of the jam by striking out Jason Heyward. In the 8th, however, he gave up a two-out single to Anthony Rizzo; pinch-runner Terrance Gore then stole second base and scored on a double by Javier Baez to tie the game. The Rockies did manage to pull off a 2-1 win in 13 innings and move on the face the Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series. In that series, he faltered again in Game 1 on October 4th as after pitching a perfect 9th inning with the score tied, 2-2, he started the bottom of the 10th by walking Christian Yelich, then threw a wild pitch to put him in scoring position. After an out and an intentional walk to Travis Shaw, he got pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson to ground into a force out, but Mike Moustakas then ended the game with a single to right, saddling Ottavino with the loss. He also pitched a scoreless inning in game 3, but the Rockies lost that game handily, 6-0.

He became a free agent following the 2018 season and on January 17, 2019, it was announced that he had signed a three-year deal with the New York Yankees worth $27 million. He announced shortly afterwards that the Yankees had allowed him to keep his traditional uniform number, 0. That made him the first player in team history to wear the number, and the only member of the team to have single-digit number, given numbers 1 through 9 have all been retired by the Bronx Bombers. The decision to allow him to use the number apparently had to be okayed by owner Hal Steinbrenner himself! On April 19th, this allowed him to be part of a historical at-bat, when he faced Terrance Gore of the Kansas City Royals as the first batter in the 7th inning: it was the first time a pitcher wearing number 0 faced a batter doing the same! He struck out Gore looking. He had a very solid first season in pinstripes, going 6-5, 1.90 in 73 games and picking up 2 saves as the team's prime right-handed relief specialist. Much like a LOOGY, many of his outings were very short as he logged 66 1/3 innings in his 73 games. He allowed just 47 hits, but 40 walks. In the postseason, he appeared in all three of the Yankees' wins over the Minnesota Twins in the Division Series, but this amounted to just one inning of work. He then appeared in 5 games in the ALCS against the Houston Astros, but things did not go so well as he allowed 6 hits and 4 runs in 2 1/3 innings.

Before the 2020 season, Major League Baseball adopted a rule specifying that a relief pitcher had to face a minimum of three batters after entering the game. While this rule affected mainly left-handed specialists, it also had implications for someone like Ottavino who was often used in previous season to face one or two right-handed batters before giving way to a lefty. In any case, his effectiveness diminished significantly during the shortened season. He still made 24 appearances - a high number given there were only 60 games played in the regular season - but his ERA shot up to 5.89 and he allowed plenty of traffic - 20 hits and 9 walks - in 18 1/3 innings. Having lost manager Aaron Boone's confidence, he made only one appearance during the postseason, coming in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, during which he walked a batter who later came in to score, in just two thirds of an inning. Following the season, on January 25, 2021, he was involved in a rare trade between the Yankees and their arch-rivals the Boston Red Sox, heading to Fenway Park alongside prospect Frank German in return for future considerations, the trade being a way for the Yanks to shed some salary. He had a bounce-back season with the Sox, going 7-3 with 11 saves and an ERA of 4.21 in 69 games and 62 innings. He pitched a scoreless inning in the Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays and gave up 1 run in 3 innings over 4 appearances against the Houston Astros in the ALCS.

He was a free agent after the 2021 season but was still unsigned when the 2021-2022 lockout put a freeze on transactions. Shortly after the labor conflict's resolution, on March 14th, he signed a one-year deal with the New York Mets for $4 million. He had a very good season for the Mets in 2022, going 6-3, 2.06 in 66 games as the principal set-up man for Edwin Díaz, who was the best closer in baseball that year. He struck out 75 batters in 69 2/3 innings and was credited with 17 holds. In the postseason, he gave up a run on three walks in his only inning of work against the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Series. In 2023, he inherited the closer's job when Díaz was lost for the season after suffering a freak injury in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

Whatever can be said about Ottavino, he does not lack in self-confidence. In a podcast following the 2018 season, he stated: "I had an argument with a coach in Triple-A about Babe Ruth's effectiveness in today's game. I said, 'Babe Ruth, with that swing, swinging that bat, I got him hitting .140 with eight homers. I would strike Babe Ruth out every time.'" This is of course based on the assumption that the best athletes from a century ago would not be able to adapt to modern playing conditions and would still approach the game as they did back then. After signing with the Yankees a couple of months later, he explained his reasoning, saying that he had used Babe Ruth's name randomly as an example of a great player from the distant past and that he meant no disrespect, only wanting to make the point that the style of playing the game had evolved so much as to make an approach that worked in the past, such as Ruth's, completely unsuited to the modern game. Ottavino is considered the master of the sweeper, a type of slider whose break is largely horizontal. He can give the pitch a break of as much as 20 inches, making him very effective against right-handed batters; he threw the pitch before it became a fad in 2023 and before it had a distinct name.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ian Browne: "Sox pry Ottavino from Yanks in rare trade",, January 25, 2020. [1]
  • Bill Ladson: "NY native Ottavino talks pitching in Big Apple",, May 7, 2018. [2]

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