Not only can Danny Otero tell you when he gave up his first run of the 2007 season, he can also joke about it.
"It was a bomb, a home run," Otero said. "I came in with a two-run lead and got the first guy. The next guy was [supposed to get] a fastball away and, instead, it split the plate. I think it's still in orbit right now. He got a hold of it."
Of course, it's easy for the Salem-Keizer closer to laugh about the home run he gave up against Eugene for several reasons. One, Otero still got the save. Two, he had already appeared in 11 games before allowing the run. Third, Otero remained unscored upon until July 28.
That one run really didn't spoil his day, or his season for that matter. After keeping his ERA at 0.00 for half the season, Otero finished with 19 saves and a 1.21 ERA, numbers that led to him being named the MiLB.com Class A Short-Season Relief Pitcher of the Year.
"I always expect to do well, but I never expected anything like that to happen. The season I had was great," Otero said. "Nothing ever really comes easy. I got into a groove early, and it kind of snowballed from there and everything went well. It was good."
Good would be a vast understatement. Despite not being blessed with an overpowering fastball, Otero allowed just 12 hits in 22 1/3 innings. He struck out 15 and did not walk a single batter. He earned a save in each of his first 17 outings.
Not bad for a guy who had never pitched out of the bullpen before.
Otero, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander, was a starter when he was selected by the San Francisco Giants out of South Florida in the 21st round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He had pitched at Duke for three seasons, graduating from that prestigious university before transferring for his final season.
Since his sophomore year of high school in Miami, Otero had always been a starter. He even modeled himself after veteran right-hander Greg Maddux, another cerebral pitcher who managed to get hitters out with a fastball similar to the 87-89 mph that Otero has in his arsenal, which includes a slider and a changeup.
"I'm not really overpowering. I just try to locate it on both sides of the plate. The main thing is locating pitches. Keep it out of the middle and let the defense work," said Otero, once a shortstop in high school. "I don't like walks. You can't defend a walk. I was always taught from my dad when I was growing up, 'Throw strikes, throw strikes.' I give up my fair share of hits, but the fewer walks you have the more chance you have of getting guys out."
When he arrived for preseason camp with Salem-Keizer, Otero was just trying to figure out where he fit in. After the starting rotation was announced and Otero wasn't part of it, he tried to wrap his brain around being a reliever. When he got a save in his first appearance, he figured he'd be the closer. The decision certainly brought him more attention from the organization and the league.
"When a guy gets the ball and time after time goes out there and shuts down innings, you keep giving him the opportunity," Giants director of player personnel Bobby Evans said. "He keeps the ball down and throws strikes. That's a good combination for late in the game."
Otero had a stretch from July 31 through Aug. 25 where he retired 22 straight batters over 7 1/3 innings in seven appearances. He had only five strikeouts in that span. If not for giving up a run in each of his final two appearances -- both to those pesky Emeralds again -- his ERA would have been well under a half-run per nine innings. The two runs in two innings nearly tripled his ERA from 0.44 to 1.21.
"It's probably the best season I've ever had. In terms of ERA, it's probably the lowest I've had," Otero said. "I just wanted to get the chance to pitch. Whatever my role, I'd do it. From the sixth inning on, I'd do it.
"It was all kind of surreal. You never expect as a pitcher to get everybody out. It's not going to happen," Otero added. "It definitely was unbelievable, and the defense made nice plays behind me. I just tried to keep the ball down and not walk people and make them put it into play."
That was the same mindset he carried to the mound as a starter, but Otero had to make some changes when he went to the bullpen. Instead of working toward pitching every fifth day, he had to be ready to be used on back-to-back days, something that happened only three days during a phenomenal season for the Volcanoes. He also knew he'd likely be on the mound for three outs, so he didn't have to worry about batters learning his tendencies for their next at-bats.
"I just go out there and do what I have to do to pitch. If they want me to throw left-handed, I will. Whatever it takes," Otero said. "I have to keep working hard. If I don't get people out, I'm not going to go anywhere. I have to keep getting people out."