DETROIT -- Orioles reliever Gregg Olson is in top form again, having converted 17 straight save attempts in the past two months.
"He has been throwing the ball very well lately," said manager Johnny Oates. "I've just got to be careful not to burn him out."
There is little danger of that. Olson is pitching more often in the situations he was born for, and doing it with an efficiency seldom displayed in 1991.
Oates added up the pitches that Olson has thrown in his past six appearances: 74, about 12 per game. Olson averaged many more last year during a 31-save season that was considered disappointing only by the standards he set for himself in his first two seasons.
"There were very few times he was under 20 pitches," Oates said. "This year, he's around 10."
Olson was available last night, though he had appeared in three of the previous four games. If that
sounds like a lot of work, Olson is all for it. There is general agreement that his troubles in 1991 were the result of an irregular save schedule. He sometimes waited 10 to 12 days to get into a situation where the game was on the line. By comparison, Thursday night's save was his seventh in 13 days.
"That helps," Olson said. "When you pitch a lot, you develop a good rhythm that comes from working."
He is in a serious groove, though he'll have to put together a few more overpowering performances to match the 41-inning, 29-appearance scoreless streak that stretched from July 31, 1989, to May 7, 1990. He has strung together 11 straight scoreless outings and has not given up a hit in the past five.
"I feel very controlled on the mound," he said. "I had the big run in 1989 and '90, but I feel like I have an idea of what I want to do with every hitter now. That wasn't so in 1989 or 1990."
Mills fills bill
Middle reliever Alan Mills has been outstanding since he was recalled from the Rochester Red Wings, but his 3-1 record and 1.00 ERA have not tempted Oates to upgrade his role in the bullpen.
"I like him right where he is," Oates said. "That's where he's going to stay for a while."
Mills has pitched 27 innings since he came up to replace the injured Mark Williamson. He has given up just 13 hits and one home run.
Left-hander Mike Flanagan continues to struggle with his set-up role. He gave up two runs in Thursday night's game to raise his ERA to 5.06. This is not the same pitcher who was one of the league's most dependable relievers last year.
"His control is bothering him the most," Oates said, "and that probably is due to a lack of pitching."
Flanagan is one of the team leaders with 23 appearances, but he has pitched just 16 innings, far fewer than he had thrown at this time last year. He is on pace to throw about half the innings he pitched in 1991.
Left fielder Brady Anderson has been seen around the clubhouse with an ice pack on his leg. He has been suffering from some tightness in his right thigh, but remains in the lineup and productive.
The defense never rests
The Orioles finished last night's game with only six errors in their previous 29 games and remained on pace to break the major-league record for fewest errors in a season. Their 29 errors in the first 59 games project to a total of 81, three fewer than the record of 84 held by the 1988 Minnesota Twins.
When Ben McDonald went 4 2/3 innings Thursday night, it was only the 10th time this year an Orioles starter came up short of five innings. Orioles starters failed to go five 55 times last year. . . . Anderson's next stolen base will make him the eighth player in Orioles history with 20 steals and 10 homers in one season. The others were Luis Aparicio (1964), Don Buford (1969), Paul Blair (1969-70), Don Baylor (1972-75), Reggie Jackson (1976), Pat Kelly (1977) and Phil Bradley (1989).