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Adam Ottavino: Bullpen Dark Horse…?

As Spring Training progresses, I find myself wondering who the surprise member of the roster may be for 2010. The battle for the bench is well documented, as are the questions surrounding the left side of the Cardinals’ infield, but concern remains regarding the right-handed side of the redbirds’ bullpen. Franklin is a lock, Motte is the next closest thing, and Boggs’ would have to “pitch himself off” the roster (as TLR put it). K-Mac may still find himself in the ‘pen if his bid for a rotation spot falls short, and Josh Kinney is doing his best to convince any and every body that his throwing arm is healthy and his control has returned. But what about the young guys?

Blake Hawksworth has struggled in his limited exposure this year and may be best suited to the Memphis rotation. Salas has certainly impressed at times – although he will most likely find himself in Memphis as well – and Parise seems to be earning a few looks in the ninth (bad luck today, though). But oddly enough, I hear little about under-the-radar prospect Adam Ottavino. Could it be the young hurler is being given an opportunity to impress? Let’s take a look…

NOTE: All statistics are “Coming into today…” meaning today’s numbers (3/15/10) are excluded.

The case FOR Ottavino…

1. How Often – The kid’s 6.1 innings pitched (IP) places a close second to only Kyle Lohse (6.2). LaRussa and Dunc seem to be using Adam in 2 inning sets (2.0, 2.0, and 2.1). This suggests not only a desire to get a “good look” at the right-hander but also a desire to see how he responds coming out of the ‘pen to pitch, sit, then pitch again. Why is that important? Because the kid’s a starter by trade. His experience in the ‘pen (at least from what TLR and big D have seen) is limited, and the transition can be difficult. If you want the kid to be a mid-reliever, you want to make sure he can pitch effectively with limited warm-up time and after sitting through a half inning on the bench.

2. When – Twice Adam’s been used as the number 2 pitcher for the Cards’ (twice following Wainwright starts) and once he’s entered as the third. Why is that significant? Because he’s not the fifth…or sixth…or seventh mop-up guy in the game. He’s getting into games on a schedule that guarantees him pitching time, and he’s getting that time when he will most likely face major league level opposition (before the mass exodus of starters begins). Ottavino’s not facing all minor leaguers. He’s being put on a schedule that assures him innings and quality hitters.

3. Build – Sure, this can get silly and out of hand…but it’s worth mentioning. Ottavino ain’t small…and he ain’t lanky. The kid is listed as 6′ 5″ and 230 lbs. He’s stout and should be durable after tossing 144 innings last season for Memphis (not to mention Arizona Fall ball). In case you’re wondering, Adam Wainwright is 6′ 7″ and 230 lbs. while Carpenter is listed at 6′ 6″ and 230 lbs. If Tony and Dave do have a “build preference” in pitchers, Ottavino fits the bill.

4. Results – While Adam hasn’t exactly been perfect, his statistical results could raise some eyebrows by the end of Spring. In addition to his 6.1 innings pitched, Ottavino has allowed just 3 hits, 1 earned run, and no homers. In fact, in his last appearance, his line looked something like this: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO, 0 HR = Win. And that was after replacing a so-so Wainwright as the second pitcher of the evening. Oh, and his ERA to date… 1.42 …second only to Kyle Lohse with 1.35 (with pitchers who have more than 3 IP…and actually HAVE an ERA).

Of course, it’s not all roses…

The case AGAINST Ottavino…

1. Control – While Adam’s final results are impressive, his method can sometimes be doubtful. Ottavino struggled with control in his first appearance this Spring (3/4). In 2.1 IP (his longest appearance of the Spring), he walked 3. Sure, he nearly balanced it out with 2 strikeouts, no hits, and no earned runs, but 3 walks in 2.1 innings is not a good ratio. In his second appearance on 3/9, he allowed just 2 walks in 2.0 innings (still not great), but struck out none, allowed 3 hits, and allowed an earned run (1 unearned). If he expects to be relied upon in the seventh inning of a major league game, his next few appearances better resemble is final appearance on 3/14 (no walks, no hits, no runs, and a K).

2. Inconsistency – A reliever – perhaps even more than a starter – must be able to show his manager a high level of consistency. With a two-run lead late in the game, you don’t want to go to a “win some, lose some” guy. You want to hand the ball to a pitcher whose results show limited variation. Adam has yet to show such consistency. Often, his best appearances follow some of his worst. While his ability to rebound is encouraging, there’s little room to work on “stuff” at the big league level. That’s what the minors are for, kid.

3. Inexperience – If Ottavino gets himself anywhere close to an “all things being equal” situation, he’s in trouble. Hawksworth has successful major league experience, Kinney’s 2006 post-season run is well-remembered, and the club could find itself committing to a third lefty from multiple options (Hill, Ben J, and Garcia). For Adam to have a shot, he has to distance himself. He needs to take his appearance yesterday and make it the “norm” when he enters a game.

All in all…

Ottavino seems to have caught Dunc’s attention with his improvement since last season, but he still has a long way to go. As the Cardinals scribes are fond of saying, nothing happens in a TLR camp without a reason. Such logic suggests a high innings pitcher in mid-game situations like Ottavino must be in the running. And if he can take his last performance of no hits, no runs, and no walks and turn it into a launching point, he just may end up earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. After all, Dunc does like his projects.

GO CARDS!!!

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