Dotel ready to bring heat to Pirates' pen
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Octavio Dotel and the Pirates completed their one-year, $3.5 million guaranteed contract yesterday and, shortly after doing so, the new closer readily cited three reasons for his choice:
1. He wanted to return to closing after two-plus years in middle relief, and general manager Neal Huntington was the only one promising him that status all through agent Danny Horwits' negotiations with several teams. Huntington reiterated yesterday it would be Dotel's "job to keep."
2. He welcomed the idea of pitching at PNC Park rather than at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, where he spent the past two seasons with the Chicago White Sox.
3. He would relish getting back to using his fastball more.
It is that latter wish, although not Dotel's top priority, that perhaps best defines what he is all about: He is 36, and he still aims to rear back and blow the ball past the bat.
"I love to throw my fastball," he said yesterday. "Here at PNC, I can throw my fastball more than I used to. I already throw it a lot, but here ... if you're going to hit it out, you've got to hit it."
Dotel threw fastballs for 82.4 percent of his pitches last year, the rest being sliders and the odd curve. And that, as Dotel suggested, was well down from the 90 percent he regularly threw while blossoming with the Oakland Athletics.
Who was the Pirates' most recent closer in this mold?
A young Mike Gonzalez pitched that way earlier this decade but, apart from that and a strong 1988 from Jim Gott, one might have to go all the way back to ... Goose Gossage?
The numbers powerfully back Dotel's case in the strikeout class: Since 2000, he has 745, more than any reliever in Major League Baseball in that span, just ahead of Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge and Mariano Rivera. His average of 11.6 per nine innings ranks fifth behind Lidge, Wagner, Rob Dibble and Eric Gagne.
Maybe most impressive, Dotel has maintained the latter figure at 10.83 over the past two years, despite age stealing some of his zip, despite U.S. Cellular and despite superior American League lineups.
"To us, the most important thing was that his rate continued," Huntington said. "While the velocity might not be what it was four years ago, it's still there between 92 and 96, and there is still a swing-and-miss capability to it."
To be sure, the Pirates could use some bullpen strikeouts after finishing 28th of 30 teams last year with 364.
"You do want that swing-and-miss capability from your back end," Huntington said.
What difference might PNC make for Dotel?
It is a tiny sample size, but he has pitched 12 1/3 career innings there with no earned runs and 16 strikeouts.
For his career, Dotel has a 3.11 ERA, 83 saves, and opponents have batted just .218.
But there are risks with Dotel, apart from age, including that he has been prone to the home run -- 19 in the past two seasons, split evenly between home and road -- and, above all, that he has not closed since a poor showing with the Kansas City Royals in 2007. He was flamethrower Bobby Jenks' setup man in Chicago.
Dotel clearly is embracing the chance to return to his old role.
"I feel like I still got a lot I can bring as a closer, and that's why I wanted to take this chance," he said. "It'll come back to me immediately. Being setup guy is same thing, to be honest. I know how to handle it, how it feels."
Another area where Dotel could add to the Pirates: He long has been known as having a highly visible -- and audible -- presence. Or, as his former Chicago teammate John Van Benschoten recently put it, "You'll always know when Octavio's in the room."
Dotel was asked about the difference he might see between the atmospheres of Ozzie Guillen, the richly animated manager of the White Sox, and the Pirates' ultra-reserved John Russell.
"To be honest, I'll make it loud here," Dotel said, fairly shouting. "This is my new house. I'm going to be loud and happy and try to win some games, to give the Pirates some energy."
Dotel could not stay in Pittsburgh for a news conference, as he returned immediately to the Dominican Republic to be with wife Massiel, who is expecting the couple's first child soon. Their plan is to move to Pittsburgh soon and have the baby here.
First Published January 22, 2010 12:00 am