"It was funny, because every time [Hottovy] pitched, we're like, 'This guy kind of has a lot of poise and he throws strikes and seems to be getting people out,'" manager Terry Francona said in his pregame meeting with the media.
Francona and the club took notice, and after allowing just one run over 8 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts at Triple-A Pawtucket, Hottovy was called up Friday and made his Major League debut as a 29-year-old.
He replaced Rich Hill as the only left-hander in Boston's bullpen, as Hill was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left forearm strain and will likely have Tommy John surgery.
"Heck, two months ago I went to Spring Training not guaranteed anything," said Hottovy, the fourth Boston pitcher to make his Major League debut at age 29 or older since 1946. "With all the guys the Red Sox brought in, I had to start the year in [Double-A] Portland after being there parts of five seasons.
"I wanted to be a pitcher in the big leagues my whole life and it was going to take a lot for me to not make it here."
Hottovy was a fourth-round Draft pick in 2004, and he was being groomed as a starter in the Minors before Tommy John surgery in 2008 forced him to move to the bullpen. Things were so grim during his rehab that he picked up a part-time job waiting tables with one arm at Arizona Pizza Company in Fort Myers, Fla., a shop that's no longer in business, just to keep busy.
And after struggling to get left-handed batters out post-surgery, he lowered his arm angle about six inches. His new delivery worked wonders as he began to master it while working with Hill, who was going through the same process.
Hottovy faced 12 left-handed batters with Pawtucket and didn't allow a hit. Across two levels this season, he fanned 28 batters in 27 innings, walking just five with a 1.67 ERA.
"He's been through a lot," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "He's had injury, bounced back. Any age you get called up is great, but to go through that is obviously an unbelievable feeling. I saw him walk in the clubhouse today, smile on his face, he was the most excited guy I've ever seen."
Hottovy entered Friday's game in the top of the sixth inning with two outs and Coco Crisp on first base, with the Sox losing 6-5.
Tough spot for a rookie? Nope. Francona thought it was perfect timing.
"Yes, it sure was," the skipper said. "And he looked like he had a lot of poise. He threw strikes. You know, he seemed excited like you're supposed to be. I don't think being nervous got to him. He executed his pitches. We were kind of hoping for something like that."