There were inevitably going to be bumps in Glenn Otto's transition from being a college reliever to a Minor League starter. If Wednesday is any indication, he may have smoothed things out quicker than expected.
The Yankees' No. 20 prospect rebounded from a rough 2018 debut to allow only one hit over six scoreless innings Wednesday, leading Class A Charleston to a 3-1 win over Rome at State Mutual Stadium. He struck out five, walked four and exited after throwing 75 pitches, 42 of which were strikes.
Gameday box score
Video: RiverDogs' Otto strikes out fifth batter
Otto (1-1) retired the first seven R-Braves he faced before issuing a walk to Griffin Benson in the third inning. His lone hit allowed came when Carlos Martinez singled to right to load the bases with one out in the fourth. The 22-year-old right-hander escaped that jam by getting Garrison Schwartz to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play, and he kept the zeros coming with perfect frames in the fifth and sixth.
The impressive outing came one start after Otto yielded five runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks over 4 1/3 innings last Friday at Lexington. As a result, his early-season ERA plummeted from 8.31 to a much more reasonable 3.48.
"I thought he threw the ball well," said Charleston pitching coach Justin Pope. "I thought he threw the ball well the first outing, too. He just ran into some bad luck. But as far as today went, he looked a little bit more like himself. He was able to get the curveball over the zone a lot better, and that was a big help. And he worked well with [catcher] Jason Lopez to mix things up and keep them guessing. It was a nice step."
Wednesday's outing was easily the longest of the Houston native's young career. Otto did not last longer than 3 1/3 innings in any of his nine appearances last season between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues as the Yankees began his transition to a starting role. New York selected the 6-foot-5 hurler in the fifth round of the 2017 Draft after a standout career as a reliever at Rice University. He posted a 3.77 ERA with 81 strikeouts and 29 walks over 59 2/3 innings in his final season with the Owls before signing for $320,900 last summer.
Otto's two plus pitches -- fastball and curve -- made New York opt to move him into a more prominent role, and those were both on display Wednesday. Pope said Otto's heater is in the low-90s now and that he expects the velocity to build as the right-hander grows comfortable in his new role.
"He's got the stuff," Pope said. "He's got three really nice pitches. The changeup we're still working on, but the fastball's got some really nice cut action to it. We're trying to get him to locate it down in the zone right now. He can pitch up in the zone now and that's great, but he's got to be able to go low too when he needs to. He's a big kid, too. He's a horse with his size. He'll be able to handle the innings, I think. But mainly, it's the stuff. The more reps he gets, the better he'll be as a starter."
The development of his changeup and improved control will decide how long he remains a starter. There have been some initial struggles; Otto has now walked seven batters over 10 1/3 innings in his first two starts while fanning eight.
"He might expect after one start that things will come into place, but that's not how that's going to work," Pope said. "It's a process. It's going to take a few outings to clean things up, but this was definitely a step in the right direction. This is something to build on."
Left fielder Leonardo Molina and third baseman Chris Hess each doubled and scored for the RiverDogs in the win.
Rome right-handed starter Jasseel De La Cruz (1-1) took the loss despite allowing just an unearned run on four hits and two walks while fanning six in five innings.