Otter's Brave new world isn't home

March 26, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

MELBOURNE, Fla. -- Five batters, four hits, three runs, two mound visits, one wild pitch. After Gregg Olson's 23-pitch outing yesterday at Space Coast Stadium, no one shouted, "Blastoff!"

And this was a good day, "a huge step," according to Olson. In fact, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox predicted that Olson still could open the season with the Braves.

Doubtful.

The Braves will either place Olson on the disabled list or release him. And if it's the latter, the Orioles should re-sign their all-time save leader immediately, giving this unfortunate saga a happy ending.

Olson clearly needs more time to recover from the elbow injury that limited him to one appearance after Aug. 9 last season. The Braves can give it to him, but will they even bother?

Their three top relievers (Greg McMichael, Mike Stanton and Mark Wohlers) have combined to allow only four earned runs in 20 2/3 innings this spring for a 1.74 ERA.

That trio produced 50 saves last season. If none proves an effective closer, the Braves could always renew their efforts to trade for Minnesota's Rick Aguilera or Florida's Bryan Harvey.

They've already invested $500,000 in Olson, and must pay him another $1 million if he becomes part of their 25-man roster this season.

The most likely scenario, then, is for the Braves to put Olson on the DL. That way, they could monitor Olson's progress while protecting themselves against the $1 million obligation.

If the Braves ultimately wanted to escape the payout, they could activate Olson and option him to the minor leagues. Olson likely would reject the assignment and become a free agent.

That's where the Orioles would come in.

They wanted to re-sign Olson after declining to offer him a contract last December, but the negotiations broke down when owner Peter Angelos renewed his feud with Olson's agent, Jeff Moorad.

You just know Angelos would love Moorad to come crawling back. "Gregg can take as much time as he needs," Angelos would say. "He belongs with us. He never should have left."

How about it, Otter?

"I haven't even thought about it," Olson said after the Braves' 6-4 victory over Florida. "Everything's been such a scuffle here. I haven't been able to do the things I need to do."

Last Friday was the first time Olson said he threw his good fastball, and in two-thirds of an inning against the New York Yankees, he allowed six hits and three runs.

Yesterday was the first time since last July he threw his good curveball, and against Marlins as obscure as Kurt Abbott and John Massarelli, his spring ERA rose from 10.13 to 18.00.

"He threw better than he has his other times, even though he got hit," Cox said. "He had some snappy curveballs. The velocity was there. He just got hit.

"I don't even care what he gave up. . . . The next time out, if he throws the same way he did today, I'd look for him to go through an inning real easy."

Perhaps, but Olson entered the game in the seventh inning with the Braves leading, 5-1. Cox replaced him with Stanton after Gary Sheffield hit an RBI single to pull the Marlins within one run.

The good news?

"I finally got over my phobia of throwing a breaking ball," Olson said.

The bad news?

"I imagine they're probably getting anxious to see some results."

Olson has pitched only 3 2/3 innings this spring -- one more than Orioles workhorse Sid Fernandez -- and opposing hitters are batting .611 (11-for-18).

Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone said he was encouraged that Olson "showed quality in spurts," encouraged that he "cut the ball loose." But clearly, this wasn't the same pitcher who once dominated the American League.

"I've still got a step to go," Olson said. "But it's a lot smaller step than the one I took today. It's in my own hands. If I can do the things I'm supposed to do, I'll be ready."

Cox did not rule out the possibility of Olson remaining in Florida for extended spring training. Mazzone said Olson will pitch three times in the Braves' final eight exhibition games.

"It's going to go down to the wire," Mazzone said. "I'm not smart enough to say yes or no right now. If it could be a yes at the end, though, what a tremendous asset he'd be."

Don't count on it. Olson is still an Atlanta Brave, but maybe not for long. There's only one just outcome. There's only one place he belongs.

` Otter, phone home.

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