Orioles closer Olson says faulty mechanics to blame for wrenching performances

WILD THING

April 20, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

At least 45 minutes after he pulled himself out of a hole he had dug, Gregg Olson walked briskly into the Orioles' clubhouse and said he had found the answer on videotape.

Faulty mechanics.

That's what has been bothering the Orioles' all-time saves leader. That's the root of the problem that has set Baltimore talk shows buzzing and baseball fans booing.

Faulty mechanics. He hopes.

"It's mechanics, I think, I hope," Olson said after a lengthy session in the Orioles' video room, where he re- viewed his latest escape. "At first, I thought it was concentration."

This was Sunday, after Olson threw five straight balls before getting a line-drive double play and a pop-up to close out a 4-3 Orioles win over the California Angels.

This was after the hometown crowd had treated him like some rag-arm scrub. There were boos when he entered the game in the ninth inning. There were more boos when he walked the leadoff hitter on four pitches. There was a near palace revolt when he threw his fifth straight ball.

Tonight, when the Orioles open a two-game set with the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards, Olson says things could be different.

"We'll find out Tuesday if this is [the answer]," Olson said. "I'm not going to say what it is. But now I feel like I have a bead on what's going on."

What's going on is equal parts fan hysteria and poor location with his pitches. The Orioles have won four games, and Olson has saved all four. In seven outings, he has a 2.35 ERA and has converted four of five save opportunities, an 80 percent success rate. In four previous big-league seasons, Olson had a 2.36 ERA and converted 83 percent of his save opportunities.

Still, it is obvious something is wrong. Olson doesn't argue that he has struggled this year. He gave up a game-winning home run to Texas Rangers reserve Doug Strange in the second game of the season. Nine days ago, he blew a save opportunity when he surrendered a game-tying, two-out, two-strike double to Tino Martinez of the Seattle Mariners in the bottom of the ninth. The Orioles lost in the 12th.

In 7 2/3 innings, he has allowed 12 base runners. On Sunday, he threw 10 pitches, and seven of them were balls.

"I'm not giving my body a chance to throw strikes," he said. "I just stink.

"I had good stuff one day [so far]. That was in Seattle. I have four saves, but I don't think I've thrown the ball well enough to get anybody out. I've had seven appearances and one good throw."

Part of the problem might be that Olson has been experimenting with a fourth pitch, the slider. Last year, he added a sinker to his repertoire of fastball and curve, and it became an effective pitch.

"Now, it's even better," said pitching coach Dick Bosman. "He's starting to get some big outs with it."

Bosman said he agrees with the assessment that Olson's problem is in his mechanics.

"He's going through a little transitional period where he hasn't had real good stuff," Bosman said. "We're working on some adjustments and different things. When you have as much body movement as he does, it takes some adjustments to keep things going in the right direction."

Orioles fans, disenchanted with the team's slow start, have shown little patience with Olson, who had similar problems in the past two seasons. Last season, he had three saves in April -- en route to 36, one off his club record of 37. The fan discontent was tangible Sunday, and Olson couldn't ignore the swelling emotion.

"Right now, the way I'm throwing the ball, it's tough," he said. "I'm not playing for anybody else other than my teammates and family. When you have 46,000 -- or however many it takes to make a boo louder than a cheer -- that dislike you, it gets irritating. I like to think it doesn't affect me, but I don't know."

The negative feedback seems to be wearing on Olson, even though he says he knows the city simply is obsessed with its baseball team.

"I understand that, but it gets tiring," he said. "I'm playing for one city, and I find the applause in two or three other cities louder than at home. That's not normal."

Bosman tries to temper the backlash.

"He's been around long enough; it doesn't bother him," Bosman said. "It's part of the game. Some guys thrive on it."

So far, on the surface, anyway, Olson is coping with it all. Inside, he might be boiling.

"I can live with myself when I wake up," he said. "I realize the sun is going to come up. [But] I find it extremely unacceptable the way I'm throwing the ball right now."

Clearly, he's not the only one.

OLSON'S OUTINGS

Date Opp. .. IP .. H .. R .. ER .. BB .. K

4/7 Tex. .. .. 2/3 .. 1 .. 1 .. 1 .. ..0 .. 0

4/9 Sea. .. ..1 .. 1 .. 0 .. 0 .. ..0 .. 1

4/10 Sea .. ..1 .. 1 .. 0 .. 0 .. ..0 .. 1

4/11 Sea .. ..2 .. 3 .. 1 .. 1 .. ..2 .. 3

4/14 Tex .. ..1 .. 1 .. 0 .. 0 .. ..0 .. 0

4/16 Cal .. ..1 .. 2 .. 0 .. 0 .. ..0 .. 0

4/18 Cal... ..1 .. 0 .. 0 .. 0 .. ..1 .. 0

Tot. .. .. .. 7 2/3 ..9 .. 2 .. 2 .. ..3 .. 5

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