When Adam Ottavino underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2015, it seemed improbable that he would be the most valuable member of the Rockies bullpen in 2016, even to himself.
“Honestly I didn’t expect to do as good as I did,” Ottavino said prior to the Rockies’ season finale in October. “Just because I didn’t think my arm was going to respond the way it did.”
After more than 14 months away from a big league mound, Ottavino made his return to action on July 5 this season against the Giants at AT&T Park. He faced just one batter that game, getting Buster Posey to ground out.
That was the first of 21 straight scoreless appearances to start the season for Ottavino, a stretch that saw him allow 10 hits, walk three and strike out 17 in 16 1⁄3 innings. The streak was broken with a Jayson Werth RBI single on August 27.
“I think I was solid,” Ottavino said.
For the season, Ottavino made 34 appearances, posting a 2.67 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 27 innings, walking seven and striking out 35, good for nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings.
“I think I did well in a lot of areas,” Ottavino said. “I wish I would have done better at certain moments, but I can’t really dwell on it too much because overall I think I did well.”
One of those moments came on August 31 when Ottavino gave up his first home run of the season, a grand slam to Dodgers outfielder Andrew Toles, blowing an 8-5 Rockies lead in the ninth. It was the only time Ottavino gave up multiple runs in an outing this season.
Ottavino took over the closer’s role in August, earning the first of his seven saves by striking out the side in the ninth in a 12-9 win at Texas on August 11. He was the third closer the Rockies used in 2016, taking over the role after veteran lefty Jake McGee and rookie Carlos Estevez struggled.
“I didn’t really think I’d close at all this season, to be honest,” Ottavino said. “But it happened and I’m glad I was able to be healthy enough to do it, so I’m proud of that.”
More than finishing games, Ottavino said he was happy with his performance in 2016, and that it was more than he expected.
“Not even closing, just the fact that I was able to be effective. I came back at a reasonable timeline and my stuff came back pretty good and I was able to pitch with confidence,” Ottavino said.
Most importantly, Ottavino said he felt healthy in 2016, always a significant obstacle after undergoing Tommy John Surgery.
“I feel good. I’m very lucky for that,” Ottavino said
Ottavino will be the anchor around which the Rockies build their bullpen in 2017. He was dominant in his abbreviated 2015 and 2016 seasons, with a 1.93 ERA and and a 0.80 WHIP, striking out 11.57 batters per nine innings. Those are the numbers of a dominant closer, though Ottavino said he is not concerned with which inning he pitches next year.
“I don’t really think about my role,” Ottavino said. “I’m just looking forward to being a better pitcher next year, taking another step forward and helping the team win more.”