Ex-Jay finds comfort, success at 12th major league stop
Changed approach leads to playoff success for Cardinals' Dotel
Remember Octavio Dotel, Blue Jays fans?
He was the relief pitcher who arrived in Toronto as a free agent with an accompanying "potential closer" label.
The one who was late opening the season because of a hamstring injury and struggled upon his return —4.50 earned-run average in April and 5.68 in May — only to turn things around in June and July before getting shipped out of town before Canadian ball fans knew what the Blue Jays had in the 37 year old.
Dotel was part of an 8-player trade with St. Louis in late July that also saw fellow reliever Marc Rzepczynski join the Cardinals, and is now resurrecting his career in these playoffs.
"I’m not going to lie to you," Dotel told reporters this week. "I was thinking it was going to be hard for me to make it [to the World Series]."
But the right-hander was a factor in St. Louis erasing a 10 ½-game deficit in the NL wild-card race, and has played a bigger part for a Cardinals bullpen that has grabbed headlines in the post-season, having posted a 2.38 ERA through Game 1 of the Series.
Dotel pitched just 29 1/3 innings in 36 appearances with the Jays this season and was eager to see the workload increase upon arriving in St. Louis. A closer, set-up man and starter in his 13-year major league career, he settled in as a set-up guy with the Cardinals and dropped his ERA nearly half a run from Toronto to 3.28 in 29 games covering 24 2/3 innings with 32 strikeouts.
So far in the playoffs, Dotel has logged nine innings pitched in nine appearances, going 2-0 in a 1.00 ERA over the span while holding the opposition to a .100 batting average.
In Saturday’s 16-7 victory over Texas in Game 3 of the World Series, Dotel blanked the Rangers over 1 2/3 innings, allowing a single hit and striking out one.
With St. Louis clinging to a 3-2, eighth-inning lead in the Series opener, Dotel retired Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler on a comebacker and struck out Elvis Andrus.
Soon after joining the Cardinals, Dotel determined he needed to slow down his tempo and keep his emotions in check. As a result, the Dominican right-hander held right-handed hitters to a .154 average in two months of the regular season.
"I’m very hyper. I pitch with a lot of adrenaline, so I tried to cool myself down because it helps me make better pitches and hit my spots," said Dotel, who is now pitching for his 12th major league club. "I don’t rush or go too fast now, and it’s been great."
Dotel also has been a strong team player, keeping other Cardinals players loose and offering advice to Rzepczynski. Late in the regular season, Dotel had seen his teammate’s arm slot drop, his sinker flatten and his aggressiveness wane, so he encouraged him to throw more strikes.
Rzepczynski went on to strike out 16 batters in his final 10 innings of the regular season.
"The guy who has helped me the most actually is Dotel," said Rzepczynski, who has a 5.14 ERA in these playoffs but has allowed just a single run in six innings in the National League Series and World Series. "He said, ‘Go out there and have some fun. Have some fun and let [the batter] hit it.’ I’ve just gone out there and tried to throw strikes. It has boosted my confidence level."
Prior to Game 1 of the Series, Dotel could be seen joking with Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who is working as a pre-game analyst for Fox Sports. Standing near the locker of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Dotel looked at Pierzynski and said: "This is a catcher."
Later on, Dotel said he was just trying to keep his teammates relaxed and ease the tension before an important game.
He often joins another reliever, Arthur Rhodes, in helping energize his teammates and get them ready to play.
"We’re just loud in the clubhouse," Rhodes told reporters. "I get them riled up first, and then Dotel comes in and loosens them up."
Should St. Louis win the 107th World Series, his teammates and Cardinals fans won’t soon forget Dotel.