Olson moving even when his pitches aren't Struggling Twins reliever is with 6th team since O's

Sidelight

April 15, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

At one time, it was thought that reliever Gregg Olson would finish his career where it started, in the Orioles' organization. He would pile up the saves, enough to give chase to the game's all-time leaders, and wait for his number to be retired.

But if he keeps up his present pace, he'll retire having played for every team in the majors.

The Minnesota Twins are Olson's sixth stop since he chose not to re-sign with the Orioles after the 1993 season. And that doesn't include minor-league stints in Richmond, Buffalo, Omaha and Indianapolis. Or a fleeting look from the St. Louis Cardinals, who released him in March 1996.

Rather than challenge Lee Smith as baseball's supreme closer, Olson is on course to become the next Ken Brett. Have curveball, will travel.

Not that it's important to Olson to settle into one place. "There have been so many teams the last couple of years, it's just part of life," he said before last night's game against the Orioles.

"I walk into a clubhouse, meet some new guys, just go about my business. I don't have any long-term expectations."

Olson, 30, hasn't found much short-term success, having allowed at least one run in four of his five appearances this season. He surrendered three runs in one inning Sunday against Kansas City, raising his ERA to 24.75.

"He's only had one outing where he wasn't in command," pitching coach Dick Such said. "He's got good velocity on his fastball, and the curveball has been outstanding. The stuff's there."

Said Olson, who gave up five earned runs this spring in 10 1/3 innings: "It might not look too good on paper, but I walk off the mound feeling like I made good pitches."

Olson totaled a club-record 160 saves in five-plus seasons with the Orioles, beginning with a September call-up in 1988, the same year he was the fourth overall pick in the draft out of Auburn University. But a torn ligament in his right elbow began the former Rookie of the Year's fade from glory.

He signed with Atlanta in 1994 and appeared in 16 games, racking up a 9.20 ERA. Olson got into three games with Cleveland the following season before joining the Royals in late July. He began last season at Triple-A Indianapolis before being traded to Detroit, and was dealt to Houston on Aug. 26.

Now, he wears No. 53 for the Twins, but no longer dreams of becoming their closer. That job was given to Rick Aguilera, who has been converted back into a reliever.

"I had kind of hoped to have a shot to close and threw the ball pretty well this spring," he said. "When they moved [Aguilera] back to the pen, I had no problems with that. He's been there, he's done it."

So has Olson. But those days are gone, and the Twins aren't looking for him to recapture them.

"We're just asking him to get people out," Such said.

Physically, Olson said he feels great, "kind of the way I did." He's developed a changeup, and said, "my curveball feels the same. After spring training, I slid into the arm slot where I'm able to throw it the way I'm supposed to. I hadn't done that for three or four years."

Coming back to Camden Yards, where he played for two seasons, really is like a homecoming for Olson. He still lives in Reisterstown, still has a fond place in his heart for Baltimore. "Nothing but good memories here," he said.

What he needs now are some good results.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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