Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Olsen out of time?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen said his arm felt good, but he allowed six runs and 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Perhaps everything you need to know about Scott Olsen's spring can be summed up in the first eight words of Jim Riggleman's postgame media session tonight.

"I thought that was the best he's thrown," the Nationals manager said.

If that was Olsen's best, it wasn't nearly good enough. Six runs and 12 hits over 4 1/3 innings. Two towering home runs on fastballs up in the zone. A fastball that touched 91 mph in the first inning but was consistently 88-89 mph after that.

And then there's this: Olsen faced 25 Tigers batters tonight. He retired only 12 of them.

This is a guy who deserves to make the Opening Day rotation?

"Anything that looks like progress is what we're looking for at this point," Riggleman said.

Progress for Olsen meant a strong first inning against the Tigers, with his fastball at its highest levels of the spring and his offspeed pitches showing some bite for the first time. But it didn't last long, and everything steadily went downhill over the next four innings. Sure, several of those 12 hits were bloop singles or well-placed bunts or sinking liners off an outfielder's glove. But Brandon Inge's solo homer in the fifth came on an 88 mph fastball down the middle. And Gerald Laird's two-run shot minutes later came on an 83 mph sinker that might as well have been placed on a tee by Olsen.

The natural assumption is that Olsen was starting to feel fatigued by the time that fateful fifth inning rolled around. But he insisted that wasn't the case.

"I felt OK in the fifth inning," he said. "I didn't feel like I lost anything. I didn't feel tired or anything like that. I just left stuff up in the zone and they didn't miss it."

Olsen also insists his surgically repaired left shoulder feels "fine," no aches, no pains, no problems.

So here's what the Nationals are left with: A 26-year-old lefty with a diminished fastball, an inability to locate his pitches with consistency and 23 hits allowed in 9 1/3 official Grapefruit League innings.

"I mean, I feel good," he said. "I feel like I'm getting close. If I'm not there already, I feel like I'm getting close."

Time has just about run out for Olsen to earn a spot on the 25-man roster. He's lined up to start again Sunday against the Braves, but by the time his turn comes up again, the club is going to need to have made its decision and inserted its eventual No. 5 starter into that slot. Right now, Craig Stammen (2.89 ERA, eight strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings) looks like the safer bet.

Nationals officials will continue to insist Olsen is making progress and that there's still time for him to make it all the way back by the time camp breaks. But if Olsen hasn't reached his moment of truth yet, he's getting awfully close. He's got to show something -- anything -- soon if he's going to stay in the race.

"I can't tell you what we need to see," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "When the decision's made on everybody, we'll all make it as a group. To me, it doesn't matter how hard you throw. That's a plus. But if you can pitch and get people out, that's the important thing."

That's the problem. Olsen's not throwing hard right now and he's not getting people out. That's not a good combination.


Anonymous said...

mark, does he have any options left? maybe their plan is to let him get his arm back and work off the rust in AAA to begin the season. i think if he never improves while in AAA he can just stay down there. if mock and stammen look great all season for us in the majors and olsen gets his arm back in AAA he'd be decent trade bait, no?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Anon: Yes, Olsen does have an option left, so he could open the season at Syracuse. He would, however, still make his full $1 million salary in that scenario.

Doc said...

Good summary MarkMeister. While speed of the ball is one of the variables, location is the most important. Afterall, there's another lefty on the staff, by the last name of Lannan, who doesn't get his fastball up much over 88 mph. Olsen was beaten as much by location as speed. Command of breaking stuff may also still be off. In time, if anybody can give him time, Olsen will be back to normal. But it won't be by the end of ST.

Craig said...

I've never been impressed with Olsen. I think he had some up side when the Nationals got him, but he's never amounted to anything. And I'm not sure that he's good club house guy. He's been bad at best during his tenure. Might be time for him to go.

Anonymous said...

Mark whats your guess, an option to AAA or a 45 days service check?

Andrew said...

Is it an arm stamina problem with Olsen?

This really hurt his chances for the starting 5.

Steven said...

He stinks.

peric said...

Its a choice: wait for Thompson and Detwiler ... or hedge your bets with Olsen as they did with Wang. Given the performance of Marquis to this point have to almost assume they may hedge their bets and send him down to the minors.

Anonymous said...

I was listening to tonight's game on XM, with the Tigers radio guys doing the game. When they talked about Washington's rotation, there was pity in their voice. They said, "Washington just doesn't have ANYTHING."

Most of the radio teams from other cities, and lots of other independent voices, see no reason the Nats don't lose 90 or 100 games again this year. If Strasburg wins 10 no-hitters starting in June, we could still lose 90 or 100 games.

Bote Man said...

"Anything that looks like progress is what we're looking for at this point," Riggleman said.

If that doesn't smack of desperation...

Maybe Olson should ponder tonight's performance over a pack of Marlboro 100's.

If he wasn't tiring yet he still couldn't get guys to make outs, then the problem must lie elsewhere: that is scary for the Nats because it means that he can not pitch effectively. No wonder the Marlins said "adios!"

Nats fan in NJ said...

Olson really sounded down in his postgame audio. I think he needs some more rehab time, build up his arm strength as well as rebuild his confidence. I'm not ready to give up on him (see: Patterson, Hill). Glad to see strong performances by Burnett & Capps (finally).

SBrent said...

AAA to open the season sounds like the solution for Olsen to work on coming back to major league readiness. So....who does that leave us at South Capital Street?

Anonymous said...

Cut him! C'mon he smokes, gambles, drinks and is a foulmouthed guy!

K.D. said...

After reading other articles I have come to the conclusion that it's still Spring Training for Olsen. Shouldn't probably compare but the Tiger's Scherzer came into this game with the attitude that "it's not ST lets treat it like a regular game". I'm actually more worried about the Nats defense, than pitching after this last game.

Avar said...

Really tough call on him. Do they commit $1m in the hopes that he gets his location back? I think the way they answer that is by asking if they have enough in the system to field a good enough rotation without him. Unfortunately, the answer is maybe.

I think they have to bite the bullet, pay him the $1m and start him at AAA to see if his location comes back. If it does and they already have 5 guys doing well in the rotation (long shot) then trade him. If it does come back and they are struggling in the rotation (likely) then he could help. If it doesn't come back, they are out a $1m. That's a lot of money.

Like I said, really tough call. I would do it if they feel they can afford the money. And please spare me w/ the litany of how cheap they are. Very easy to say how little $1m of someone else's money is. Trust me, it's a lot of money.

Andrew said...

Anonymous said...
Cut him! C'mon he smokes, gambles, drinks and is a foulmouthed guy!

If you cut everyone that gambles, drinks and is foulmouthed you would only have Josh Willingham, Garrett Mock, and Wil Nieves left on the team.

Anonymous said...

A no brainer. Triple A. Give him 4 or 5 starts and if he doesn't improve.....cut him. Give Stammens the ball. Yeah, our rotation is lookin like a minor league rotation.....again

Steve M. said...

The Nats ended the season with

Livan Hernandez
JD Martin
Ross Detwiler
Garrett Mock

Now it appears like it will be almost the same rotation that the Nats finished the season with except substitute Stammen for Detwiler and Marquis for Martin.

Lannan - Lannan
Livan Hernandez - Livan Hernandez
JD Martin - JS Marquis
Ross Detwiler - Craig Stammen
Garrett Mock - Garrett Mock

The Nats finished 2009 with 7 straight wins and essentially those pitchers. Out of the gates the schedule will be real tough with 3 against Philly.

Has the starting 8 improved enough over last year as they are essentially the same starting 8 that finished the year except at Catcher and Rightfield although the big change is Nyjer Morgan is back in CF as they didn't have him at the end.

Net net I would say Rizzo has weakened the team slightly as the starting 8 didn't improve in RF, SS, and C and on the bench. The bullpen is certainly unproven. The starting rotation will only be better if Marquis and Livan Hernandez can give this team a good April and May until Strasburg, Wang and Detwiler can prove they can unseed someone in the rotation.

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