Thus far in his career, Gregg Olson has a success ratio of 85 percent. Not bad for a third-year reliever who barely spent enough time in the minor leagues to learn how to pack his equipment bag.
The righthander with the knee-weakening curveball and explosive fastball has quickly reached the point where he's taken for granted. His failures have been so rare they fall into the shocking category.
Such was the case two days ago, when Olson's inability to protect a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning led to the Orioles' sixth loss in a nine-game road trip and dumped them into last place in the American League East. It was just another reminder that things haven't been quite right for a team expected to be a contender.
It was also an infrequent reminder that Olson doesn't come into every game with all of his weapons.
"I didn't have any confidence in either pitch," Olson admitted after having a chance to reflect on what had happened.
That seemed like a rare admission for a pitcher who has been successful in 68 of his 80 save opportunities (including 37 of 42 a year ago and all four this year before Sunday).
Olson was asked how often he faces such a dilemma, being unsure of both of his trademark pitches.
"It happens enough," he said. "Maybe two times out of 10. You go out and don't have much and hope they hit it at somebody, or that you can make the big pitch when you have to."
At least part of Olson's problem is directly related to the standings. "It's not how much work [innings] he gets," said manager Frank Robinson, "it's how often he goes out there. And he hasn't been out there a helluva lot."
Olson appeared in only three of the nine games on the road tripOnly one, the first game in California, came in a winning cause.
The All-Star reliever refused to blame his effort Sunday oinactivity, but acknowledged that the lack of work was at least a contributing factor. "You don't know what is enough work and what is not," said Olson, who in his 10 innings is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA. "It's a matter of judgment.
"In the long run, no, [he hasn't had enough work], but I've beeable to compensate some because I've had good stuff because of the rest."
Olson's explanation of his difficulty also sounds like an accuratdescription of what is wrong with the Orioles. They either fail to capitalize on their opportunities or the other team takes advantage of their lapses -- and sometimes both factors come into play.
The big difference is that the Orioles' ratio of failure is running lot higher than Olson's these days.
As they prepare to open a six-game homestand against thOakland A's and California Angels tonight, the Orioles find themselves in a perilous position. They are already eight games under .500, 7 1/2 behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox.
Their season, considered so promising until it started, ithreatening to end before spring.
If that sounds like a harsh assessment, consider that after 28 games, the starting rotation is still in a state of disarray and the offense is revolving around two players -- Mike Devereaux and Cal Ripken.
Glenn Davis' bat has been sorely missed and it remains uncertain when, or if, the righthanded slugger will return. Davis is due to be re-examined during this homestand, but he does not appear to be close to returning.
In Davis' absence, the Orioles have a lot of hitters struggling. On the 3-6 road trip Joe Orsulak was 4-for-21 (.190); Randy Milligan 6-for-28 (.214); Chris Hoiles 3-for-14 (.210); Brady Anderson 4-for-21 (.190 -- but with five RBIs) and Ernie Whitt 1-for-9 (.111). Bill Ripken is 2-for-29 (.069) in his last 10 games.
In the meantime, the pitching staff, with few exceptions, most notably Jose Mesa, continues to struggle with a 4.66 earned run average that challenges the Yankees for the worst in the league.
The combination of hitting and pitching miseries have combined to keep the Orioles anchored at the bottom of the division standings -- and Olson inactive in the bullpen. And it is unlikely that the reliever's fortunes will change until the Orioles develop some consistency.