Thursday, July 29, 2010

Resurrected Olsen revives Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen was strong in his return from the DL.
Turn back the clock to, oh, 6:45 p.m. Tuesday night, a few minutes before Stephen Strasburg's warm-up session was cut short and all of NatsTown went on red alert. At that moment, if someone had told you the Nationals would take two of three from the Braves, you would have thought that sounded reasonable. Most likely, Strasburg and Livan Hernandez would have led the way.

Strasburg and Livo, of course, combined to pitch 4 1/3 innings this week. Which makes the fact the Nats still took two of three from a first-place opponent all the more impressive.

"That's huge," Drew Storen said. "I think the manner in which we did it [is most impressive]. That's not an ideal series, the way things went with the rain delay, with the whole Stras thing. For us to work through that, play well and have the offense come through like they did, it's big for us."

Stop the presses: There's more to the Nationals than Stephen Strasburg! And there's apparently more to the pitching staff than Strasburg and Hernandez! Take out Livo's sub-par and brief start last night, and the rest of the staff combined to allow two earned runs and 13 hits over 22 2/3 innings in this series. The bullpen didn't give up any runs in 11 2/3 innings. And if you want to count Miguel Batista's fill-in start, that total goes up to 16 2/3 scoreless innings.

Pretty amazing stuff, when you think about. Then again, Scott Olsen's performance this afternoon was pretty amazing on its own.

Making his first big-league appearance in more than two months, Olsen tossed six sharp innings, his only real mistake coming on Matt Diaz's two-run homer in the fourth. Not bad for a guy who essentially was deemed finished twice this year.

When Olsen showed up at spring training heaving 83 mph fastballs at the plate, few inside the organization believed he was ready to return following last year's labrum surgery. The left-hander, though, kept making progress with each outing, slowly getting his fastball back over the 90 mph mark.

"He just continued to grow and was confident," Jim Riggleman recalled today. "He kept saying: 'I feel good. I'm going to get stronger. This 83-84 is not me. It's going to get better because I feel better. I'm just building up arm strength.' And he was right. He did."

Did he ever. After failing to make the Opening Day roster, Olsen joined the rotation one week later. And then over a stretch of five brilliant starts in late-April and early-May, he went 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA. All of a sudden, he looked like a long-term piece of the Nats' puzzle.

In his own mind, though, Olsen knew it wouldn't last. His left shoulder had been barking for a couple of weeks. He tried to slog through it for a while, but eventually: "It was just unbearable. I had to stop throwing. I had to get it fixed."

So the Nationals placed Olsen on the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation, and common wisdom said he might be finished once again. Certainly with so many other pitchers on pace to return from their injuries sooner, and with Strasburg due to arrive himself, there didn't seem to be any chance of Olsen earning his way back to the big-league rotation.

Olsen, though, was determined to make it happen. For two months, he woke up every morning in Viera and worked out at the team's spring training complex. The physical battle was tough enough. The mental battle made it even more of a challenge.

"It's not fun," he said. "It's basically the worst experience you can have. You get to the field and you don't get to play. You just get to work on stuff. It becomes boring. But it's something you have to do when you're hurt."

Slowly but surely, Olsen ramped his way back up to the point he was ready to go on a minor-league rehab assignment. And when a spate of injuries befell Nationals starters in the last week -- Strasburg, J.D. Martin and Luis Atilano all went on the DL in a span of six days -- Olsen got the call.

Who knew what to expect when he took the mound today at Nationals Park against a tough Braves lineup? How about a quality start, not to mention his first win since April 30?

Not bad. Not bad at all.

"The last 2 1/2 months haven't really been a whole lot of fun, but it makes days like today even more fun than they are," Olsen said. "Just to know that the amount of work and effort that you had to go through, at least you're doing it for something."

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice to see Olsen get the win, with good support from the bullpen and bats. Hopefully, the injuries are behind him, and he can finish out the year strong.

Farid Rushdi said...

Mark,

Do the Nationals control Olsen next season or beyond? The release-and-sign last winter makes it all a little uncertain for me.

JaneB said...

It was so good to see him out there today! If it hadn't been raining, we would have given him a nice ovation before the rain delay.

Anonymous said...

The Nats were 27-31 before Strasburg was called up, now 2-1 since he was scratched. 29-32 without Strasburg, 15-26 with him. Just sayin'.

Sec3MyAnonymous said...

Yeah, if that keeps up, they're going to have to trade him for some toolsy outfielders.

raymitten said...

Mark -- CBS reports Capps traded to Minnesota for Wilson Ramos. True?

David said...

Capps to Twins for 23 year old Wilson Ramos.

Big Oil said...

RAMOS! Great move is my initial reaction. Man would have been one of the key pieces in a Cliff Lee deal. Helps a position of need and could be starting by next year. Got to like it based on what I know so far.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Congratulations to Rizzo. He's selling high on Capps and getting Ramos to fill our gaping hole behind home plate, with no offense to Pudge. He can go back to being the 60-70 game guy he was supposed to be to backup Kid Flores.

Great move, I say.

David said...

Very good deal! Capps salary is a least 7 mil next year. 23 year old full time catcher in AAA is very good. #58 BB prospect definite backup next year.

Gus in FFX said...

Read on CBS that Nats also got Joe Testa in the deal. Here is what I could dig up:

Who Is Joe Testa?

Twinkietown_tiny by Jesse on Jul 16, 2009 4:36 PM EDT in Player Profiles Comment 9 comments
While browsing minor league numbers for the Twins this afternoon, I came across a pitcher by the name of Joe Testa. Who is he?

This is his page at MiLB.com. No profile picture. Check out those numbers, though. He's currently pitching with the Miracle in Fort Myers, having appeared in half a dozen games and 10.2 innings. Testa's struck out 14, walked three and allowed eight hits. Nobody's scored yet. He's sporting a 1.44 FIP according to FirstInning.com, although they haven't logged two of his appearances, which probably means that FIP is even lower.

For the majority of this spring and summer, Testa was quietly blowing away hitters as a pitcher for the Beloit Snappers, Minnesota's low-A ball affiliate. He started just one game, appeared 24 times in relief, and accumulated a substantial 45.2 innings. Strikeouts: 63. Hits: 26. The walks weren't quite as impressive, with 23 earning a free pass. That's a 1.07 WHIP, 2.56 ERA (FIP 2.70), and a .161 opponent average.

Testa is a 23-year old southpaw, undrafted out of Wagner College in 2008. Wagner College is in Staten Island, New York, and has been part of the NCAA since 2003. Until recently, in the history of the school only Curt Blefary has had a major league career ('65 - '72), although a couple of guys did make it to triple-A. In 2006, the Oakland Athletics drafted Andrew Bailey, a teammate of Testa at Wagner in '05 and '06. Baily is now blowing people away as a rookie relief pitcher with the A's.

David said...

seriously, people give him a lot of S for his bulldog mentality, and he is no saint, look at his arrest record with florida, but as a baseball player i love his mentality on the field, i always felt better out there playing behind someone like that... his fighter attitude is something that's easy to get behind, i hope he sticks, he's better than a lot of our AAAA pitchers

Mark Zuckerman said...

Farid Rushdi said...
Mark: Do the Nationals control Olsen next season or beyond? The release-and-sign last winter makes it all a little uncertain for me.


Sorry, meant to respond to you last night but got caught up in the Capps story ... Olsen is still under the Nats' control next season. It will be his final arbitration year. He can't become a free agent until 2012.

Post a Comment