Olson-less 'pen: save excuses

September 15, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The excuse is built in, but the denizens of the Orioles bullpen want no part of it. Closer Gregg Olson may be on the disabled list, but that doesn't mean the club is going to be left helpless in a pinch, according to the remaining relievers.

dTC "We know that people are saying, 'Well, Gregg Olson isn't there,' but we still feel we can do the job," said left-hander Jim Poole, who has turned in a strong performance in a setup role. "When you lose your best player, a lot of times a team becomes better. I look at the bullpen as a team. I felt we started rising to the occasion after Gregg was hurt."

No one is underestimating the contribution the bullpen has made this year. It was the Orioles' strong relief pitching that carried them through a difficult first two months. The relievers also played a major role in the 10-game winning streak that pulled the club back into the AL East race in early June.

"Our bullpen has been very important to the success we've enjoyed this year," manager Johnny Oates said yesterday. "They have had some outstanding stretches."

Of course, there have been some difficult games, too. The Orioles lost a lead on Monday night because right-hander Mark Williamson gave up four runs in the sixth inning.

The loss of Olson, coupled with the temporary absence of right-hander Todd Frohwirth, had left the bullpen thin and forced Oates to go with rookies Brad Pennington and Kevin McGehee in an important situation.

Frohwirth went home to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, a son, Tyler, on Monday. Last night he was back, although he wasn't needed as Fernando Valenzuela gave the bullpen the night off with a complete game.

The absence of Olson has not been so temporary, so the bullpen alignment has evolved over the past five weeks. Right-hander Alan Mills has moved into the closer role, with Poole and Frohwirth also available in late innings. That has left the middle innings in the hands of Williamson and the rookies.

Oates never has allowed this to become an issue . . . or a crutch. The way he sees it, if everyone does his job, it's not going to be a problem. But somebody has to do Olson's job, which leaves a hole somewhere else.

"Olson's not here, so he doesn't have a job," Oates said, "or at least he's not active. Everybody's role changes over the course of the year. They've done a good job."

It hasn't been as much of a problem as it could have been. The first month that Olson was out, there were only three games in which the Orioles took a one-run lead into the ninth inning, and they won all three. The bullpen has faltered in the past week, but the relievers did their share during the club's recent climb back ,, into contention.

"I really thought we had turned the corner," said Poole, who is 2-1 with a 1.90 ERA in 50 appearances this year. "The team turned around, and we started to get hot, too, but we've all found ways to fail again.

"We've had a couple of setbacks the last few days, but we feel that we've all accepted the challenge while Gregg is out."

Monday's game was a tough one to lose, but even the struggling Williamson appears to be looking forward to another chance to contribute to the pennant drive. He is 1-2 with an 8.10 ERA in his past 14 games, but again is among the league leaders in relief victories (seven).

"That's the nice thing about baseball," he said. "You can be the goat one night and the hero the next. The last couple of games, we've been struggling a little bit and not throwing the ball very well. It seems like when one guy doesn't throw well, everybody else struggles, too."

Williamson and the others realize that the absence of Olson makes the bullpen less imposing to the opposition, but they still seem confident that they can fill the breach.

"Can we? Sure," Williamson said. "I think maybe the attitude around the league is that they don't have Olson, so the guys coming in aren't going to be as good. He was the closer, but there were plenty of situations where other guys came in and got out of big jams earlier in the game. Now, you've got to do it later in the game instead of earlier."

The outlook for Olson remains uncertain. He said yesterday that he hopes to be back by the end of the road trip, but no one is counting on that. For the moment, the Orioles have to count on what they have.

"They've done it for a month and a week just fine without me," Olson said. "It's tough [to be out], but it's been a lot easier to take because they have done the job so efficiently. I can honestly say that I haven't seen one game where I thought I would have made the difference."

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