Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Olson's Strong Debut Ends Rays' Streak

BALTIMORE -- Garrett Olson did more than deliver a pick-me-up victory and demonstrate that he's matured into the pitcher the Baltimore Orioles envisioned he could be Tuesday night. His 2008 debut was impressive enough to make manager Dave Trembley seriously consider the possibility that the left-hander might stay around for a while.

Olson took a shutout into the seventh inning and the Baltimore Orioles opened an abbreviated homestand by beating Tampa Bay, 7-4, on Tuesday and snapping the Rays' longest winning streak since 2005 at six games.

Summoned from Triple-A Norfolk to fill in for the injured Adam Loewen, Olson, 24, did more than put himself into the mix to replace Loewen in the rotation.

"I don't know about competition," Trembley said, "but I would think after the way he pitched tonight, we would have to see what we can do to get him back out there again."

With the Orioles needing to use Olson on Tuesday, and turning to Matt Albers for his second spot start of the season Wednesday, Olson couldn't have picked a better time for his coming-out party. He allowed two runs on four hits, walked five and struck out six in 6 2/3 innings. He left after surrendering a run-scoring double by Akinori Iwamura. Rookie Randor Bierd replaced Olson and yielded an RBI single to Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton's two-run homer.

"I just thought I was more in control with myself," Olson said. "Not getting flustered, I guess you could say in crucial situations, and just trusting myself and making that pitch when I needed to."

In Spring Training, when Olson had a chance to horn his way into the rotation picture, a lack of command belied his 1-0 record and 1.29 ERA in three Grapefruit League appearances. The rookie acknowledged being motivated by the meeting he had with Trembley when he was farmed out in March.

"When they call you in and say you're going down, it can definitely hurt a little bit," Olson said. "But you know it's part of the process. It's part of paying your dues and maturity. I went down and worked on some things."

The change was noticeable.

"His stuff was improved," Trembley said. "He made some big pitches when he had to. His mound presence, his poise, his ability to make big pitches -- it was good for him. Good for him and good for our team."

Olson retired the first seven hitters he faced before running into trouble in the third. With Baltimore nursing a 2-0 lead, the Rays sandwiched walks by Eric Hinske and Iwamura around Jason Bartlett's single to right to load the bases. In similar situations last year -- when he went 1-3 with a 7.79 ERA in seven starts -- Olson might have crumbled.

"Just coming up, I might have been shell-shocked a couple of times," he said. "Now it's just thinking it through, just relaxing, and I think the stuff is always there, but I think I've improved my command a little bit."

Maybe more than a little bit. Crawford broke his bat on Olson's first offering, a slider, and bounced to third baseman Melvin Mora, who forced Hinske at home. Olson then muscled up and struck out Upton on an 0-2 fastball to blunt the rally.

"I think you saw a pitcher that let his pitches go tonight, a guy that was not nervous to be here, trying to do too much," said first baseman Kevin Millar, who watched the left-hander escape two-on, one-out jams in the fifth and sixth. "Tonight he let his pitches go. Everything's coming out crisp."

Millar was particularly struck by the manner in which Olson -- who spent much of his 2007 trial nibbling at hitters -- challenged Tampa Bay with his best stuff. That's just what Trembley wanted to see from Olson.

"I thought what he did was he pitched inside better and he worked faster," Trembley said. "Last year when I saw him, it seemed like his tempo was really slow and almost he pitched defensive instead of aggressive."

"I think part of that is, maybe, giving the hitter too much credit and being afraid of contact. You can't do that," Olson offered. "You got to make him put it in play. Strike one, then you see what they can do with the next pitch and the pitch after that."

Working with a lead only helped Olson's comfort zone. RBI singles by Mora and Nick Markakis made it 2-0 in the second, and Ramon Hernandez's run-scoring double increased the margin in the third. By the time the Orioles erupted for four runs in the sixth -- highlighted by Aubrey Huff's team-leading fifth home run against reliever Scott Dohmann -- Olson was cruising, and Trembley didn't hesitate to send him out for the seventh.

''Why not?" Trembley said.

Baltimore exploited the shortest start in the career of Rays right-hander Jason Hammel (2-2), who lasted 2 2/3 innings and gave up three runs on six hits and four walks.

After Beird served up Upton's two-run homer in the seventh, the Orioles turned to the righty-lefty tandem of Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker to get them through the eighth. Walker got a strikeout and a fielder's choice after Bradford yielded two singles, and George Sherrill worked the ninth for his 10th save in 11 opportunities.

Trembley applauded the performance, which opened an abbreviated homestand for a team in the midst of 17 of 20 games on the road. After a Friday night rainout in Chicago forced a Saturday doubleheader, Monday's rain-delayed game versus the White Sox was suspended after 11 innings with the teams knotted at 3, and a series of roster moves brought Olson up. Trembley wasn't sure how his team would respond.

"We came out with the opportunity to break it open early," Trembley said. "We kept making [Hammel] throw some pitches and I think we just really showed real good fortitude tonight. I mean, the trip coming back here and the conditions yesterday and everything that's gone on here about the last 72 hours -- I think have been taxing on everyone mentally. Not so much physically, but mentally. You know you make a couple player moves today you don't know how your team is going to react when you do those kind of things."


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