When the Red Sox traded for Adam Ottavino last month, the move was greeted with plenty of shock since he was coming over in a trade with the Yankees that seemingly came out of no where.
As it turns out, though, Ottavino could prove to be a vital piece of Boston’s late-inning bullpen puzzle this coming season. The veteran reliever has already made a positive first impression on Red Sox manager Alex Cora at the onset of spring training in Fort Myers.
“Very smart individual,” Cora said Saturday in regards to Ottavino. “He’s very quiet. He moves very smoothly and very slow around. But, when you talk to him, he opens up. He knows a lot about pitching. He knows himself. Like he told me a few days ago, he’s excited to be here.”
Boston acquired Ottavino — as well as right-handed pitching prospect Frank German and cash considerations — from New York on January 25 in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named later.
The 35-year-old right-hander is six months removed from a 2020 campaign with the Yankees in which he posted a 5.89 ERA and .770 OPS against over 24 appearances and 18 1/3 innings pitched.
Upon closer inspection, however, six of the 12 earned runs Ottavino surrendered last year came against the Blue Jays on September 7, an outing in which he failed to record a single out. If you take that one blowup away, his ERA on the season drops to 2.98.
For his major-league career, which dates back to 2010, Ottavino has not surprisingly had more troubles against left-handed hitting (.792 OPS against) than right-handed hitting (.615 OPS against), but the ex-Rockie will still get the chance to face hitters from both sides of the plate with his new club.
“We talked a little bit about the way we’re going to use him, and we’re not going to limit him to righties,” added Cora. “He’s going to get lefties and righties out. He worked hard in the offseason to improve a few things. He threw a bullpen today, actually Christian [Vazquez] caught him. This is a guy that was very dominant in Colorado. He was dominant two years ago [in New York]. He had a bad outing against Toronto last year. So, he’s a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish and I’m happy that he’s pitching for us.”
Working primarily with a sinker, slider, cutter, and changeup, Ottavino originally attended Northeastern University before getting selected by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2006 amateur draft.
While at Northeastern from 2004-2006, the Brooklyn native got the chance to watch the Red Sox from up close since the university’s campus is just a few blocks away from Fenway Park.
“When I was in college, I went there regularly,” Ottavino said last month of his past experiences at Fenway. “I would get the standing room tickets after practice, especially if [Curt] Schilling or Pedro [Martinez] was pitching. Try to watch those guys from behind home plate up the stairs there.”
In addition to watching the Sox when he was younger, playing for them is actually something he has envisioned doing as recently as his free agency in the winter of 2018/2019.
“The Red Sox were one of my top teams I wanted to go to at that time,” said Ottavino, who ultimately wound up signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Yankees. “They reached out early in the process but it never really got off the ground… The team had just won the World Series, so there was nothing not to like there. Boston has always been a place I saw myself playing. So it was definitely one of the teams at the very beginning of the process I was hoping would reach out to me. And they did and it never got off the ground. But I still appreciate the interest, for sure.”
Now that he is with the Red Sox, the 6-foot-5, 246 lb. hurler figures to be part of a group of relievers made up of Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Josh Taylor; all of whom will be vying for the role as Boston’s closer over the next month-plus.
That being said, Cora was rather mum about which sort of specific role Ottavino will be undertaking out of the bullpen once the 2021 season does begin.
“He’s going to get big outs in the last third of the game,” the Sox skipper said with a wry smile. “Whenever you ask me about these guys (Barnes, Brasier, etc.), that’s going to be the answer.”
(Picture of Adam Ottavino: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)