Olson relieved as closer in O's bullpen shake-up

April 24, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Orioles manager Johnny Oates acknowledged the nature of his team's early-season free fall with a desperate measure yesterday, announcing a bullpen reorganization that turned closer Gregg Olson into a middle reliever.

Olson, whose blown save Thursday night led to another frustrating defeat, was summoned to the manager's office yesterday at Royals Stadium and told that he temporarily was being moved out of the closer role that he has held since 1989.

"We're going to move him up in the bullpen and give him the chance to work on some things when the game isn't on the line," Oates explained. "If he was getting people out, he'd be the closer now, and before the year is over, he'll be the closer again."

In Olson's place, the Orioles will go with a closer by committee, using any of three relievers in late relief situations. Right-handers Todd Frohwirth and Alan Mills figure to get most of them, but the shake-up also will give the club a chance to see what rookie left-hander Brad Pennington can do in save situations.

Perhaps Olson saw it coming, but he appeared to be shocked after it became official. He was teary-eyed as he tried to sort out his feelings.

"I'm pissed," he said. "That's it, I'm pissed. I'm not going to start anything. I'm not going to say anything. I guess -- stepping back -- I probably deserved this. I guess if I had thrown the ball better, we would have three more wins, so I can take quite a bit of the blame for this slide."

Olson (0-1, 3.12 ERA) has four saves in six opportunities, but he has yet to turn in an overpowering performance. Before pitching one scoreless inning last night, he had given up at least one hit in seven of his eight appearances and had not gotten through an inning without allowing at least one base runner.

It is not the first time he has suffered through a streak such as this, but this is the most drastic action that Oates has taken to straighten things out. During a midseason slump last year in which Olson blew six of 15 save opportunities, Oates altered his practice of bringing his closer in to start the ninth inning, but Olson was never removed from the closer role.

Oates would not speculate on how long the experiment would last, but it stands to reason that he'll stay with whatever gets his team out of the American League East cellar. Olson averaged 33 saves during his first four seasons as the Orioles' closer, but the club has played too poorly to wait for things to average out.

"The reason we're 4-9 is not solely Gregg Olson's fault," Oates said. "I think it has been a total team effort to get where we are right now. We have 32 uniformed personnel in this clubhouse and each has had a part in what we have and have not done.

"Now, what do we do to get on the right track? . . . . The starting rotation will stay the same and the lineup will stay the same, but that's not written in cement. We've moved our bullpen around a bit. It's not Gregg Olson or the bullpen, but it's the first area we're going to tinker with."

The restructuring will affect every member of the Orioles' bullpen except long reliever Mark Williamson. Frohwirth and Mills will be the primary short men. Pennington will trade places with left-hander Jim Poole and also may be placed in some save situations. Olson will work as a set-up man, pitching in less pressurized situations in the late innings.

Poole did nothing to pitch himself out of his specialized set-up role, but he'll be used earlier than Pennington so that the hard-throwing rookie will be in position to finish if he is throwing well.

The formula could change as the situation evolves, but Oates figures that the closer role eventually will have to come back to Olson for the club to be a legitimate contender.

"We've got some people who are going to have to produce if we are going to do what we set out to do out of spring training," Oates said. "Olson is one of them. Then there's Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Arthur Rhodes in the starting rotation. Cal [Ripken], Mike Devereaux, Harold Reynolds and Harold Baines. We've got Baines hitting .219, Devereaux at .180, McLemore at .167 and Reynolds at .162. We're not going to win anything that way."

Oates tried to soften the blow by pointing out to Olson that the move was in his best interest as well as the team's, but there was little Oates could say that would make the demotion -- however temporary -- any easier to accept.

"He understands, but I don't think he's jumping up and clicking his heels about it," Oates said. "He just wanted to know if he gets people out, will he be able to earn his role back."

The role has been turned over to his set-up men, but none seemed eager to view the shake-up as a career opportunity.

"I believe that this will last a week or so," Frohwirth said, "because after Gregg -- who is our best reliever -- throws a few times and gets his mechanics straight, he'll be the stopper. He's our best reliever."

Frohwirth knows that the team does not view him as a full-time closer, but Pennington is considered to be a potential closer of the future. He has to look at it differently.

"I think that Mills and Frohwirth will get more of those situations," Pennington said. "I'll be working a little later. I think it's a chance to show them something for down the road."

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