Yankees’ Adam Ottavino made ‘uncomfortable’ change to fix big weakness

Adam Ottavino intends to no longer play taps.

When the Yankee reliever makes his spring debut Saturday against the Tigers, Ottavino plans to do so without his familiar small punch back into his glove just before he breaks his hands in his delivery. The modification, Ottavino hopes, will lead to better control, but particularly a quicker delivery to try to better thwart running games.

“I was just so sick of my glove tap and I had to break this habit,” Ottavino said.

Ottavino, as an amateur starter, used a full overhead windup and no tap. But once in the Cardinals organization after being drafted, they wanted that delivery eliminated and to have him begin with his hands at his belt. He began to emulate another big righty, former Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, who had a glove tap.

Initially, Ottavino would eliminate the tap with a runner on first to better hold runners, but it became “ingrained” to do that movement all the time and Ottavino began using the tap whenever he threw, even when he was playing catch.

Ottavino had a strong first year as a Yankee, but a terrible postseason. Even within the strong regular season, though. Ottavino walked 14.1 percent of batters he faced (eighth worst among regularly used relievers). He felt that was more about lack of aggression, especially early in counts, rather than a lack of control. Still, he believes the removal of the tap will simplify, streamline and make his command better.

But this new approach is for the running game, in particular. Ottavino permitted 15 steals in 16 tries. Over the last three seasons, Ottavino yielded the fifth most steals (49) among all pitchers, including starters who threw hundreds of more innings than him. And base stealers had an 89 percent success rate.

Ottavino said he was consistently 1.7 seconds to the plate. Anything above 1.3 is a large “go” sign to good runners.

Ottavino knew this, but thought it would be too difficult to try to fix during the season. So he went to work almost immediately after the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason by the Astros. He began regularly going to Yankee Stadium. He would throw into a net just a few feet away, starting with his hands never touching to try to retrain his brain how to deliver a pitch without the tap.

“It took a while for me to break that (habit),” Ottavino said. “It was very uncomfortable for a few weeks, then it got more and more comfortable.”

Ottavino graduated to mound sessions in December and said he was down to 1.3 seconds in delivering the ball and felt there was perhaps more reduction possible. Ottavino will never be great at holding runners. He is tall so he has long levers, has a crossfire delivery and wants to be conscious not to lose the power by being too quick. The righty believes that between chopping portions of a second and differentiating his looks, he can reduce the number of runners who try to steal on him.

“I can’t sacrifice too much of getting the speed to home to throw with some authority,” Ottavino said. “I think I can get it in a range where (opponents) won’t run (as often), either way, it has to be better than before.”

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