During the regular season, Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino worked 36 at-bats to an 0-2 count. Hitters went 0-36 against him in those situations, and 31 of them ended up as strikeout victims. It’s hard to understand, then, how this happened:
Ottavino had Mike Moustakas down 0-2 with a man on third in the bottom of the tenth, and you could hear the collective scream coming from the direction of Denver, begging Ottavino to put his man away with a slider. Instead, he left a fastball up and near the middle of the plate, and Moustakas whacked it into right field.
In the locker room, Ottavino explained why he decided to give Moustakas a fourth straight fastball: “I thought he was late on my fastball, under it a little bit ... everybody knows I throw a lot of sliders, so in that spot I wanted to elevate, wanted to get it a little higher than I got it. In that spot I think I guessed what he was looking for wrong there.”
This explanation makes some sense, Ottavino does throw a ton of sliders, but the reason for that is that it is one of the very best pitches thrown by any reliever in the game. Hitters couldn’t touch Ottavino in the regular season in 0-2 counts precisely because that slider, a big sweeping pitch that frisbees across the plate, was coming at them so often.
Decisions aren’t made like this in a vacuum, of course, and if Ottavino was thinking about how late Moustakas had been on the fastball, he may have also been thinking about what happened during Tuesday night’s wild-card game. Trying to protect a 1-0 lead with a man on second in the bottom of the eighth, Ottavino got Javy Baez to an 0-2 count. He threw the slider in that situation, but left it over the plate, and Baez was able to send it into the gap. A mistake like that can stick in a person’s head, and inevitably lead to compounding mistakes in the future.
It’s unfair to put two pitches from a reliever who has been great all season under the microscope like this, but that’s what happens when a statistical trend gets violently bucked twice in three days, and the playoffs are nothing but a series of small moments becoming big ones. There will be more of those ahead for Ottavino, and he should probably just throw the slider next time.