Lack of aggressiveness haunts Olson
O's prized pitching prospect fans six, but also walks six
BALTIMORE -- It's hard to be ahead of schedule when you're behind nearly every batter you face. Fast-rising rookie Garrett Olson couldn't maintain his command-and-control act against the Red Sox on Saturday, when he got ahead of just eight of the 30 batters he faced and sunk the Orioles to an early deficit and a 6-2 loss.
Olson, a 2005 draftee who has logged an ERA lower than 3.50 at every rung of the organizational ladder, walked six batters and allowed eight hits. The southpaw fell behind 16 of the batters he faced and Boston put the first pitch in play six times. The Red Sox got three hits in that circumstance and swung and missed at a first pitch just once.
Still, Olson improved enough as the game wore on to call his third big league start a middling success. He threw at least 18 pitches in each of the first four innings but tossed eight in the fifth and 14 in the sixth.
"Early on, I just didn't feel as aggressive with my pitches," he said. "I was kind of nibbling a little bit [and] falling behind hitters. Today, I just ended up walking too many guys instead of just going after everybody and trying to establish the zone early."
Olson, the 48th overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, made two starts earlier this season for Baltimore before going back to Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles made room for him in the rotation by moving swingman Brian Burres back into a relief role, and they did so in the hope of evaluating whether Olson is ready to compete for a starting slot.
Perhaps the ideal microcosm of his strengths and weakness came in Saturday's first inning, when Olson (1-1) walked the first two batters and faced off against the heart of Boston's batting order. Olson got David Ortiz to strike out on four pitches and Manny Ramirez to whiff on a full count before getting out of the inning on a four-pitch fly ball.
"At that point, I felt pretty good," he said of escaping the first-inning jam. "I made a point of stepping off and trying to slow the game down a little bit. It was kind of feeling like Fenway today in that situation, with the crowd getting behind them. But I was able to step back and just kind of re-evaluate what was going on. I made a few quality pitches."
He wasn't as lucky in the second or third, when the Red Sox (70-46) got two rallies to take a lead they'd never relinquish. Boston's J.D. Drew got a high-hop double over first baseman Kevin Millar's head to push runners to second and third in the second inning, and one ground ball later, Julio Lugo doubled to left field to drive home two runs.
Ortiz flew out to start the third inning, but Ramirez walked and Mike Lowell doubled him over to third. The Orioles (53-62) elected to intentionally walk Jason Varitek, and Drew made them pay with a two-run bloop down the left-field line. Olson didn't allow any more runs, working into the seventh and coaxing three double plays to escape further damage.
"I thought he rushed the first couple and settled down after that," said manager Dave Trembley. "[He had a] better breaking ball than I saw the first couple times he pitched for us. ... I think he probably wants two pitches back -- both of them to Drew."
"I wasn't too nervous," added Olson, who admitted to nerves after his first start. "I felt pretty good out there, actually. I just didn't have the fastball command -- or the curveball command -- at all. Early on, I was all over the place a little bit. Later on, I felt like I was able to hone in on the strike zone a little bit more and get better quality pitches."
Meanwhile, Boston ace Josh Beckett was setting the Orioles up and mowing them down. Baltimore got its best early scoring chance in the first inning, when it pushed runners to first and third with one out. Beckett (15-5) got a double play, though, and allowed only one more runner to reach scoring position in the next seven innings.
That streak ended with a double by Brian Roberts in the ninth, and Beckett got two quick outs to advance to the threshold of a complete game. He gave up two run-scoring hits, though -- one to Miguel Tejada and one to Millar -- before yielding to the bullpen. After a walk by Manny Delcarmen, Jonathan Papelbon got one out for his 27th save.
"He was throwing 97 in the first and throwing 97 in the ninth," Trembley said of Beckett. "If we had scored in the first, it might have opened it up for us a little bit. But you could tell the way he was pitching that runs were going to be a premium against him. It looked like the couple runs they scored were going to be enough for them."
"They don't lose a whole lot in a row because they've always got a stopper," said Millar.
Baltimore's late rally kept the Orioles as the only team that hasn't been shut out this season. In the end, the game could be chalked up as a learning experience for Olson, who sat with veteran pitching coach Leo Mazzone in between innings and soaked up as much of his teachings as he could.
"[We were] just reading hitters and kind of seeing how they're reacting to certain pitches," he said, relaying Mazzone's tutelage. "There were a couple situations there where it looked like they were just sitting to pull the ball. He was just kind of preaching, 'Establish low and away.' I did that and I was getting some ground balls."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.