Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen was strong in his return from the DL.
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."