TAMPA, Fla.— Four batters, four strikeouts for Adam Ottavino.
Nice first impression.
Everything at this time of year, of course, gets the “it’s spring training, and early spring training at that” qualifier. Austin Romine, who caught the reliever’s first simulated game of camp, offered some of his own.
But there was no denying the impressive nature of the righthander’s session, which featured one of the game’s deadliest sliders, Thursday morning.
Ottavino, a New York native signed to a three-year $27 million deal in the offseason, faced Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Luke Voit and Wade again, retiring each swinging as manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Larry Rothschild looked on.
“Think about how nasty he is in highlights,” Wade said. “Then times that by a lot.”
Voit, in particular, seemed exasperated, grunting loudly after a swing and miss.
“I try not to blow first [simulated games] out of the water, but you can see why he’s good,” Romine said. “You can see why his slider’s pretty devastating. His fastball command, also. Some good life at the top of the zone. It was nice and easy. I was impressed . . . and that slider, it’s something special. The command at the top of the zone and that slider, it’s something special.”
It’s special because of the pitch’s movement and the sidearm motion Ottavino uses to deliver it and his other pitches. It is particularly lethal against righthanded hitters, who struggle to pick up the ball.
“He threw a really nice slider,” Torres said. “He’s very difficult to see really well.”
Righthanded hitters had a .142/.231/.236 slash line against Ottavino in 2018, striking out 67 times in 148 at-bats. Lefthanded hitters went .179/.319/.241, with 45 strikeouts in 112 at-bats.
“That’s one of those, you’re watching from behind, knowing as a righthanded hitter, that’s not a fun at-bat right there,” said Boone, who watched the session by a protective screen behind the mound. “When he executes, you’re kind of not even upset when you’re out. You’re just glad it’s over with.”
Said Wade: “It’s not as bad for me because I’m lefthanded, but I can’t imagine being a righthanded hitter.”
Ottavino, the first Yankee in franchise history to wear a uniform with only a “0” on the back, went 6-4 with a 2.43 ERA in 75 games with the Rockies last season. His 112 strikeouts in relief (in 77 2⁄3 innings) was second in the National League and fourth in the majors.
“Ottavino, man, that’s one guy I watched in the offseason,” Aaron Judge said earlier in the week. “I kept saying, ‘C’mon, man, let’s pull the trigger on him, he’s got some nasty stuff.’ He’s going to be a dominant force in our pen.”
Romine smiled while recalling some of the hitters’ reactions in the box to Ottavino’s slider.
“There were some big swings and misses, and you take that with a grain of salt because hitters are also getting ready, but there’s something special to his pitches,” he said. “I’m glad we got him. I know the hitters weren’t glad we got him today, but [they will be].”