Simplified Advice

Duncan tries to make things easier for Ottavino





JUPITER, Fla.—The Cardinals experimentation with Adam Ottavino as a reliever during spring training revealed how far the first-rounder has come for the organization as a starter.

Ottavino, the team's first pick (30th overall) in 2006 out of Northeastern, was one of the last pitchers optioned out of major league camp, and the Cardinals did so only after giving the righthander a shot at the big league bullpen. All 92 of Ottavino's professional regular season appearances had been as a starter, but his Grapefruit League outings were so crisp, so quality, that the Cardinals thought maybe Ottavino could fill an opening as a reliever.

"You've got to pay attention to what he's done," Cardinals pitching coach David Duncan said. "I felt like at the beginning of spring he was getting real close to turning the corner controlling his delivery."

The narrative thread of Ottavino's pro career since signing with the Cardinals in 2006 has been his flighty mechanics. On draft day, the Cardinals lauded how Ottavino's mechanics were the "natural mechanics" they sought. Encouragement for Ottavino to embrace a fluid, even non-traditional delivery actually led to confusion. Ottavino had several coaches and officials whispering suggestions in his ears, and he struggled to merge them all.

At one time, Ottavino would raise his hands above his head as part of his delivery. Another time he tried to go with the athletic sling delivery that he saw in a video the Cardinals showed featuring Bob Gibson. He often leapt at the plate.

That led to erratic command and results. Late in 2009, Duncan reached out to Ottavino and suggested a simplified delivery. Ottavino took to it, and took off. After the starting the year 1-9 with Triple-A Memphis, he went 6-3 in the second half to finish 7-12, 4.75.

After consecutive two-inning perfect appearances in spring, the club decided to shift him to bullpen to see if he could fill a middle-relief role. He did well, but was sent back to Memphis, where he's set to be the ace.

REDBIRD CHIRPS

• Lefthander Brad Furnish, a 2006 second-round pick, was released by the Cardinals during spring training.

• Sam Freeman had Tommy John surgery in March. He was a late addition to major league camp but didn't get through two bullpens without pain in his elbow. Freeman was 2-1, 1.64 for high Class A Palm Beach in 2009 as a reliever.