Maturing Olson now shakes off perfect notions

April 08, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Gregg Olson learned a valuable lesson last year -- when you expect perfection, the only result can be disappointment.

In the process, he discovered a lot about himself and his profession.

"I felt I would do the job 100 percent of the time, and that's just not going to happen," the ace reliever said as the Orioles prepared for tonight's game with Cleveland, the first under the lights at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "Last year, I grew up.

"I thought I would be perfect. And, after one bad outing, I kept telling myself I had to be perfect. It all came unglued early, and I took a lot of things to heart."

A 31-save season for a team that loses 95 games should be considered a brilliant year. But, new attitude or not, Olson doesn't see it that way.

"It was a lousy year," he said, focusing on his eight blown save opportunities.

After three seasons, Olson is within 10 saves of the Orioles' all-time career record (105), held by Tippy Martinez. At 25, he should reach the 100 mark more than a year earlier than any other pitcher in baseball history.

Those are numbers that don't translate into the need for much improvement. But Olson said he is better prepared than at any other time of his career.

In the past, baserunners got little attention from Olson, whose concentration started and ended with the hitter.

"That's still the top priority," he said. "But now I know what a guy is going to try to do when he gets to first base.

"I have a better idea and complete confidence that I can give my team a chance to get a double-play ball -- or throw him out if he tries to steal. I know what I'm going to do, and I'm not worried if it's a steal situation."

A one-week crash course with new pitching coach Dick Bosman last fall has enabled Olson to tidy up his act with runners on. He has worked all spring on a "slide step" that enables him to deliver the ball home almost 20 percent faster than he did before -- split seconds vital to a baserunner, or the catcher.

"It [his new delivery] has gotten to be a habit now," said Olson. "I could use it all the time if necessary."

When Olson first signed with the Orioles, in summer 1988, Bosman was the roving minor-league instructor. One of the first things he tried to do was change Olson's move to the plate with runners on base. But neither the timing nor the technique was right.

"He had a good slide step then," recalled Olson, "but it was too quick for me to get my arm up to throw the curveball. I could get the fastball to the plate in 1.1 seconds, and nobody could steal, but I couldn't throw the curve."

Holding runners on base was not worth risking his signature pitch, so Olson returned to his old style.

But, during the past offseason, Bosman offered a slight adjustment to the original move. And it has given Olson a different look at baserunners.

"With the high kick, it took 1.6 seconds for me to get the ball to the catcher," Olson said. "Now, I'm consistently at 1.3 seconds, and that's a big difference."

His new move is not the only wrinkle Olson has added. He's still basically a two-pitch pitcher (fastball and curve), but he's added a variation to his fastball. No longer will he depend strictly on the high, hard one.

"I've added a two-seamer, which is basically a sinker-type pitch," he said. "In talking to our hitters, they tell me it's tough to sit on the four-seamer and hit the sinker. It's something that should help me in double-play situations."

With 95 saves in 114 opportunities, Olson's success ratio of 83 percent is 11 points higher than the American League average in the past three years and puts him among the elite finishers in baseball. Only Dennis Eckersley (124), Bobby Thigpen (121), Jeff Russell (106), Lee Smith (103) and Bryan Harvey (96) have more saves during the same period.

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