Ottavino past injuries, confident for strong '17

Right-hander had a 2.67 ERA last year after returning from Tommy John

February 13th, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As the 2016 season ended, Rockies right-handed reliever no longer felt the reminders that he'd had Tommy John surgery a month into the 2015 season.

"I'm just not really thinking about it anymore," Ottavino said. "Sometimes, it's hard to believe I even had the surgery at all."

This all could mean Ottavino is back to his old, hard-to-hit self, as the Rockies embark on their first official workout of Spring Training on Tuesday morning at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. If that's the case, he is a special option that new manager Bud Black can use in many ways.

Ottavino emerged as the Rockies' closer in 2015, throwing 10 1/3 scoreless innings while going 3-for-3 on save chances before the elbow blowout.

After recovering last year, when he might have been better served knocking off the rust in lower-leverage outings, he was forced into the closer role because Jake McGee was hurt and was struggling. Ottavino finished 7-of-12 in save opportunities, with a 1-3 record and 2.67 ERA in 34 games.

• Rockies expect healthy McGee to bounce back in 2017

At times, Ottavino's slider -- which he can coax several different actions, depending on the hitter -- was at its old form. There were struggles against left-handed hitters, but he saw success late. By the end of the season, the Rockies were able to trust that in 2017, a healthy Ottavino will be one of the keys to turning around a bullpen that finished last year with a Major League-worst 5.13 ERA.

"He's so unconventional and has so much deception, and I looked at is stuff; it was hard to say he wasn't all the way back when he came back to us from the injury," Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes said. "But I would say from the command of his fastball, command of his breaking pitches, and being able to work hitters and hit his spots, everything was better toward the last three weeks of the season. He was feeling it, feeling his rhythm and timing."

Ottavino, 31, in the second year of a three-year, $10.4 million contract, does not let the inning in which he pitches affect his approach. That's important, given the makeup of this year's bullpen.

The Rockies signed right-hander Greg Holland, who missed last year because of his Tommy John surgery. Before that, he was one of the top closers in baseball with the Royals. Holland's one-year contract worth $7 million has closer-type incentives and a chance to earn a second year. Lefty Mike Dunn's three-year, $19 million contract has incentives to finish games, as well. Estevez expects to be better, and there are other young, power pitchers that will compete for high-leverage use.

If Holland isn't sharp, the closer job could go to anyone -- Ottavino included. But the Rockies, under Black, want multiple power pitchers from the middle innings to the end. Ottavino is on board with that.

"I've said it too many times, but I have no desire to be closer, and that's it," Otavino said. "I want to impact the team the most I can. Bud's job is to put us in the best situation to win games, and if they need me as closer, I'd be glad to do the job. If they use me in a different way, I'll be glad to do that, too."

Ottavino experimented with different foot positions on the rubber last season, depending on whether the hitter was a righty or lefty, and loves to tinker.

"You will find out about it when the hitters do," Ottavino said with a sly smile. "I'm not trying to add anything major, but there's some room for improvement in my game. I'm willing to explore all the avenues, and see what I'm capable of doing. If I come up with something that's going to make me significantly better, I won't be shy to use it."