Otto hit hard, ready to learn from first loss

September 11th, 2021

OAKLAND -- Every player who has ever graced a baseball field, regardless of how their career ultimately turns out, will experience their “welcome to the big leagues” moment. On a brisk, cold Friday night at the Coliseum, Rangers rookie had his.

Otto was rocked for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in a 10-5 loss to the A’s, being handed his first career loss in the process. But even on a night when every ball seemed to find a hole, it served as an opportunity to grow.

“It’s fun. It’s competition,” Otto said. “Obviously, you want to come out on top and anytime you lose, you’re going to be able to learn from it, and I’m definitely going to be able to learn from tonight.”

In terms of tangible takeaways, Otto pointed out that he had a tendency to do too much, trying to make great pitches when good ones would have sufficed. Manager Chris Woodward praised that awareness, a trait he does not typically find in pitchers this young.

“We see a lot of guys, especially at this level early on in their career, they all want to be great right from the beginning,” Woodward said. “That awareness is an awesome quality to have.

“Usually, you see it in older guys. They don’t panic. Even if they give up three or four, they come back in and they talk about it the next day like, ‘I have to be better. I have to just stick with my stuff there.’ To see a young kid see that head on his shoulders, that’s why it’s a real positive thing for us and for him as we look to the future.”

Along with the intangible of awareness, Otto has flashed the stuff that’s beginning to turn heads. This was unquestionably the worst start of his three at the Major League level, but the 25-year-old right-hander’s called-strike-and-whiff rate of 36.7 percent was his best of the three. Funny how baseball works.

To zero in on the silver linings, Otto’s peripherals are still a bright spot. Against Oakland, Otto struck out five while walking just one. In 13 career innings, Otto has 16 strikeouts to two walks and has yet to allow a home run, the holy trinity of controlling what he can control.

The high strikeout rate, low walk rate and non-existent home run rate leads to Otto’s FIP standing at 1.62, even as his ERA ballooned to 6.92. Those numbers will likely veer somewhere toward the middle, but Otto’s FIP, nonetheless, is tantalizing.

Otto’s evening began innocently enough, shaking off Matt Olson’s two-out single to pitch a scoreless first inning. With Adolis García driving in a run in the top half of the frame, the Rangers’ night had promise.

Then, the avalanche. Behind a walk, two hit batters, three singles and Olson’s bases-clearing single -- he was thrown out trying to take second base -- Oakland hung Otto with a six-spot. For perspective, in Otto’s first two starts, he allowed six hits. In short, this wasn’t going to be his night.

“The stuff is there, it’s just a matter of trusting it and, for the most part, he’s executed pretty well here, outside of that six-run inning,” Woodward said. “I know it’s a small sample size, [but] he’s done really well.”

Otto, and the Rangers as a whole, appeared to have bounced back in the third inning; he struck out two in a scoreless frame while the offense generated three runs to shrink the deficit to 6-4. The hope of redemption was short-lived, however. Elvis Andrus’ double and Starling Marte’s triple in the fourth knocked Otto out of the game.

“We need to see what these guys can bounce back from,” Woodward said. “That long second inning, goes back out and has a decent third and then try to right the ship at that point. [He] couldn’t get out of the fourth, but it was good to see him get back out there in that third inning.”

Now, Otto is tasked with bouncing back from not just a bad inning, but his first bad outing.

His next start will likely come against the Astros, the team he blanked across five innings in a stunning debut. Houston has now seen Otto up close, eliminating the surprise factor. He has been impressive, even with Friday’s clunker. Come his next turn in the rotation, he’ll have a chance to continue to apply these lessons.

“He’s very aware of what he’s feeling out there and how he’s doing,” Woodward said. “Hopefully, he can make the adjustment the next time around.”