Home runs continue to plague Otero

September 22nd, 2018

CLEVELAND -- The ninth inning on Friday night encapsulated Dan Otero's season out of the Indians' bullpen. The veteran reliever generated four ground balls, including one that led to a double play, but he also surrendered a home run to Boston's .

"It was like, 'Man, I got ground balls,'" Otero said prior to Saturday's game against the Red Sox. "One ball hit in the air and it goes over the fence. I don't know how to stop that. I wish I did."

As Cleveland inches closer to sitting down and planning out its bullpen for the American League Division Series, Otero is trying to focus on process over results. The main reason behind that approach for the reliever is the fact that it is hard to fix something when the solution is not clear.

Otero has pored through the data and there is not a discernible answer to his struggles.

His walk rate (0.8 per nine innings) and strikeout rate (6.6 per nine) are better than his career norms (1.3 BB/9 and 5.9 K/9). Otero's pitch movement and location are similar to past seasons. His average fastball velocity in 2018 (89.9 mph) is identical to last year. The righty is still creating ground balls 58 percent of the time, and he has handled right-handed hitters well enough (.295 weighted on-base average).

Even with all those underlying numbers in line with expectations, Otero entered Saturday with a 5.43 ERA and a career-high 12 home runs allowed in 56 1/3 innings. On the season, the pitcher's homer-to-flyball rate is 26.1 percent, which is a dramatic rise over his career showing (13 percent). Prior to this year, Otero had only allowed 19 home runs in 315 1/3 innings, dating back to 2012.

Left-handed batters, in particular, have given Otero the most trouble. Heading into Saturday, lefties had a .438 wOBA and .682 slugging percentage off the reliever.

"Earlier in the year, I was trying to fight, 'Why is this happening?' And it snowballed," Otero said. "And then it was like, 'I can't worry about that. I've just got to throw.' My ground-ball percentage is still pretty good, but the home runs are through the roof. I wish I had a concrete answer, but I really don't.

"The best way I can explain it is it's baseball and it just happens to be that I'm the guy it's happening to this year. I don't want it to be like that. Fortunately, other guys in the bullpen have stepped up."

A year ago, Otero was among the relievers left off the ALDS roster against the Yankees, given that the Indians moved three starting pitchers (Mike Clevinger, and Josh Tomlin) into the bullpen. One starter will likely move to the relief corps this year, but there is a strong chance that Otero makes the cut, given his ability to retire righties and create grounders.

Otero is trying not to think that far ahead.

"I don't know what decision it is yet," Otero said. "Honestly, I don't know where I stand. Just to be able to be a part of it is special. I mean, this is three years in a row winning the division. That's uncommon this day and age, so you just try to enjoy it. And whatever decision is made, I'll be at peace with it and help the team out in any way I can, to be honest with you. I know that sounds cliche, but that's how I feel.

"You just never know. We're in a good spot. They'll be able to pick some good players on this roster. There's a lot of great arms. If I'm a cheerleader, I'm going to cheer my ass off."

Worth noting

• The ALDS does not begin until Oct. 5, but manager Terry Francona said he and his staff have already started researching the Indians' potential opponent. Cleveland will open on the road against the winner of the AL West. Francona said he has been focusing on the Astros, who carried a 3 1/2-game lead over the A's into Saturday's action.

"That's no dig at anybody else. I've looked at Oakland, too," Francona said. "Just, more Houston, because that's what the odds are. It could change, but that's OK. I've actually looked at both. Might as well take the opportunity to do it. You try to be up-to-date as much as you can, but then you watch them play and it kind of makes you nervous, because they're good."

• Right-hander has not pitched since Saturday, but Francona said that is part of a planned down period for the late-inning reliever. The manager added that Allen would throw a bullpen session on Saturday before being worked back into games over the final week of the regular season. Cleveland wanted to ease the pitcher's workload before ramping back up for the playoffs.

• Francona noted that has been dealing with a sore right shoulder, explaining why the outfielder was lifted after playing four innings on Friday night against the Red Sox. The manager said the team's medical and training staff mapped out a schedule that included having Guyer play a "half-game" on Friday.