GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Dan Otero entered training camp last year as a long shot to make the Indians roster after a disappointing performance in 2015 that got the right-hander released.
Otero pitched well enough to win a job in the bullpen, then offered up an effort that just may have saved his career.
“2015 was not a good year at all, so to be given a chance with such a great organization, I really wanted to take advantage of it,” said Otero, who tossed a scoreless inning in his second exhibition appearance Thursday during a 4-2 loss to the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Glendale.
“It’s not many times a player gets maybe a second or third opportunity to prove himself in the big leagues. To be able to come here and be a part of this organization for five or six weeks of spring training and then to be able to get called into the office and told I was making the team, it was a special moment — one that I’ll always remember. You always remember those moments, whether it’s your first time making a club or the second or third time making a club. I really wanted to take full advantage of it and have fun with it.
“That’s one thing I may have lost sight of in 2015 is the fun factor of baseball. We do get to play a game for a living and we’re very fortunate to be able to do that, and my wife kept reminding me of that, ‘Go have fun, stop just kicking yourself over this, I mean you’re playing baseball.’ Once I got that in my head, I think it helped me out last year.”
And in turn, Otero helped the Indians, leading the bullpen in innings (70 2/3, 13th in the American League), while posting a 5-1 record and sparkling 1.53 ERA (third in the AL) over 62 appearances. He was versatile, pitching in the long relief role, middle innings and late, with Francona calling Otero his “wild card.”
“It’s such a helpful guy to have, because in a bullpen, routines are important,” Francona said. “If you can have that guy that you can kind of bounce around, where everybody else stays put, it’s so helpful. And he was that guy. As he got on a roll, his confidence was so (high), as it should be.”
Francona’s comments were music to Otero’s ears.
“Anytime the manager says stuff like that about you, it makes you feel good,” said Otero, who turned 32 in February. “I’m just happy to help the team anyway I can. We have such a good group of guys that everybody kind of just accepts their role. If everybody pulls in the same direction, we can have a lot of success.
“Our bullpen is so strong from top to bottom. Probably, if you really want to count, probably 20 deep, if you count non-roster guys that are here (in training camp) and some guys that may be headed to
(Triple-A) Columbus. We have such a talented group here, so just to be a part of it is special and anything I can do to help the team is what I’m here to do.”
Last year was quite the turnaround for Otero, who lost his touch — 2-4, 6.75 ERA in 41 games — after consecutive quality seasons in Oakland and was released.
The Phillies claimed Otero off waivers, then traded him to Cleveland for cash considerations. The acquisition wound up being the Indians’ gain and Oakland’s and Philadelphia’s loss when something clicked for Otero in 2016.
“I think just confidence,” Otero said. “You get that confidence back. So many people sometimes start going down and it’s hard to get back up. You try to do too much maybe. I got off to a good start and that helped. Then it was just kind of riding the wave.”