Dotel gets to play for his dream team
Reliever was motivated by thought of being with Braves
ATLANTA -- Two winters ago, while doing his post-Tommy John surgery rehab in Atlanta, Octavio Dotel would regularly tell his trainer that his dream to play for the Braves provided daily motivation during this grueling process.
When this dream wasn't realized this past offseason, Dotel wondered if it would ever come true. All of that wondering ceased on Tuesday, when the Braves showed definite interest by obtaining him from the Royals in exchange for 23-year-old right-hander Kyle Davies.
"I talked to them in the offseason, but nothing came through," Dotel said. "Now I can say my dream comes true. I've always wanted to play for this club. I like all the good players they have here and all their years of winning."
When Dotel arrived at Turner Field on Wednesday, he found himself in an energized clubhouse. Tuesday's trade deadline acquisitions, which also included first baseman Mark Teixeira and left-handed relievers Ron Mahay and Royce Ring, had significantly increased optimism and given the Braves a belief they can make a run at the World Series.
"I'm here just to win," Dotel said. "That's the reason they brought me over here and that's the reason I'm here."
Although he comes from Kansas City with respectable credentials, which include the fact that he converted 11 of 14 save opportunities, Dotel arrives without thoughts of unseating Bob Wickman as the closer.
"I understand they have the closer already on this team," Dotel said. "Even though I was the closer in KC doesn't mean I need to come over here and be the closer. Wickman is the guy here. If one day, he's not available to pitch, it can be [Rafael] Soriano or myself."
For now, Braves manager Bobby Cox says he'll use Dotel, Wickman and Soriano in interchangeable late-inning roles. But there's always a chance of injury or even that Wickman could be moved via a waiver-wire trade in August.
If this were to occur, Dotel and Soriano both would be capable of handling the closer's role.
While pitching for the Astros and A's during the 2004 season, Dotel registered a career-high 36 saves, limited opponents to a .217 batting average, and registered 122 strikeouts in just 85 1/3 innings.
"He's great," said Tim Hudson, who played with Dotel in Oakland during that 2004 sesaon. "He's got unbelievable stuff. He's an awesome guy with a great personality. He's always smiling. He's going to be a good guy to have around."
Dotel's status as one of the game's top closers was erased when he needed Tommy John surgery on June 7, 2005. In his mind, it took nearly two full years to regain the same dominant stuff that he had before undergoing this elbow ligament transplant procedure.
While posting a 10.80 ERA and seeing opponents hit .383 against him during 14 appearances with the Yankees last year, Dotel knew he was limited. But while posting a 3.94 ERA and limiting opponents to .264 batting average in 24 appearances with the Royals this year, the 33-year-old reliever gained a sense of familiarity.
"I was trying to pitch and see [with the Yankees]," Dotel said. "But I knew in my mind that I didn't have my best. Even though I was throwing hard, I didn't have my consistency. Now, it's a big difference."
Although he thought it would be in his best interest to not divulge any of his best pranks, Dotel confirmed Hudson's assessment, which was that he was a fun-loving character, who would provide benefits on and off the field.
"I do a lot of crazy stuff because I want people to know you have to enjoy the game," Dotel said. "You can't put too much pressure on yourself when you play this game. The only time you need to feel pressure is when you are on the field playing."
When Teixeira talked about Dotel on Tuesday night, he described him as being a pitcher he didn't like to face. Likewise, the right-handed reliever described his new first base teammate as a hitter he never liked to face.
The Braves are hoping their National League rivals develop these same thoughts during the final two months of the season.
"This team was good already and now I think it's better, a lot better," Dotel said. "I have like eight years in the big leagues. I'm looking for a ring now."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.