Ottavino more than just a fireballer

Righty reliever prefers his breaking pitches over 98-mph heater

Ottavino more than just a fireballer

MILWAUKEE -- Rockies right-handed relief pitcher Adam Ottavino can fling a 98-mph fastball, but he enjoys outsmarting hitters over overpowering them.

Ottavino began his 2015 by doing a lot of both, with a clean eighth inning with two strikeouts in the Rockies' 5-2 victory Tuesday night. His fastball, a pitch that has grown steadily in effectiveness, topped at 98 mph. But he lights up when discussing his breaking balls -- sliders, curves and pitches in between. He fanned Luis Jimenez on an 84-mph slider, and although he froze Carlos Gomez at 98 and forced Jonathan Lucroy into a weak grounder at 96, he set them up with sliders ranging 82-95 mph with different breaks.

"That's my whole method of pitching, being tricky, mixing it up and improvising out there," Ottavino said. "That's fun for me. The game is that inner strategy, against the hitter, giving him what he doesn't want."

The different breaking pitches, mixed with the occasional hot fastball above the hands, have allowed Ottavino to strike out 148 in 143 1/3 innings over the last two seasons -- which have been stellar, save for a slump last June.

Ottavino developed his fastball early in his pro career with the Cardinals, before the Rockies claimed him off waivers in 2012. The velocity waned, but now is back, and he's not sure why. But breaking pitches have always been with him. Ottavino grew up in Brooklyn patterning himself after pitchers with signature breaking balls, such as Orlando 'El Duque' Hernandez, David Cone and Matt Morris.

Ottavino's dominant inning came against righty batters. He hopes to improve against lefties. If he discovers the balance (currently lefties hit .324 against him, righties .236), he could find himself in a closing role.

"He gives you an opportunity to match up; he's so deadly against right-handed hitters," manager Walt Weiss said. "He's been better against lefties, too. He's made some adjustments. But the fact you can pick and choose whne you use him, it's a luxury.

"When you see a guy with stuff like that, closing is in his future."

Worth noting:

• First baseman Justin Morneau, removed from Tuesday night's game when a throw hit him in his neck at third base, wasn't in the original starting lineup Wednesday but was inserted after taking swings in the batting cage. "It got a few different spots -- I got hit by the ball, got my hand stepped on, a bunch of different things," Morneau said. "I wanted to see how I felt."

• Morneau playing meant Wilin Rosario, last year's No. 1 catcher who is searching for at-bats behind the plate and at first base, was scratched. Rosario played one inning at first base and did not have an at-bat in the first two games. "He's been awesome, he's got a great attitude," Weiss said of Rosario. "We're two games in. He'll play a major role."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.