Olson Providing a Shot in the (Left) Arm For Tribe
Craig Gifford | On 27, Aug 2017
Everyone knows about one left-handed reliever that the Cleveland Indians acquired last July. The trade for Andrew Miller proved to be an important one for the Tribe as the relief ace and 2016 American League Championship Series MVP helped lead the way in October all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
The magnificent Miller was not the only lefty the Indians added last July – he was the only one that made shock waves. However, Tyler Olson is now making some waves of his own. Before the blockbuster trade-deadline deal for Miller, Cleveland claimed Olson off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. The largely unheralded and barely mentioned move happened on July 9, 2016, a little more than three weeks before Miller traded in his Yankees pinstripes for Tribe red, white, and blue.
For several years, the Indians have thrown darts at the dart board and putty at a wall to simply see what sticks when it comes to left-handed relievers. Before Miller, the bullpen was a revolving door of left-handed specialists who failed to get much done in Cleveland. Managers like to have two southpaws that they can count out of the ‘pen. Tribe skipper Terry Francona has been lucky to have one such arm to turn to since coming to Cleveland in 2013.
Miller is not actually a left-handed specialist in that he can get anyone and everyone out. When healthy, he can often pitch two innings with no problem. What the Indians have longed for is a lefty to reliably turn to in order to get tough left-handed hitters outs in one or two-batter situations.
Cleveland signed veteran Boone Logan to be that guy this year. He uncharacteristically struggled to start the year and is now on the disabled list, his season over after a strained left lat muscle injury suffered shortly after the All-Star break.
Enter Olson. He was one of a handful of left-handed relievers the Indians brought to spring training this past February. There was nothing more than a minuscule chance he would make the team and was destined for Triple-A, where he has spent much of the past few seasons.
Between Logan getting hurt and Miller now being on the disabled list a second time, Francona really wanted someone who could pitch from the left side in his ‘pen. Granted, the Indians do have solid right-handed relief pitchers in Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Joe Smith who can get hitters out no matter what side of the plate they are standing on. However, having a lefty in bullpen is a good go-to for a baseball team.
When Olson was first brought up to the majors and took the mound for the Tribe, the first question out of the mouths of fans had to be, “Who?” Little was known about him.
Much more is known now about 2013 seventh round amateur draft pick of the Seattle Mariners. He is doing his best impersonation of Miller as Francona and the fans of the Indians are starting to trust him more and more.
The 27-year-old has been lights out for the Indians. He is still a rookie despite the Tribe being the sixth Major League Baseball team to lay claim to him since 2012.
The Oakland Athletics actually drafted Olson in the 17th round of the 2012 draft. The two sides could not come to a contract agreement and he went back to Gonzaga for another year of college ball before the Mariners tabbed him with their selection the next summer.
Olson made his debut with Seattle in 2015 and appeared in 11 games, covering 13 1/3 innings. He gave up eight earned runs for a 5.40 ERA. He was traded to the Dodgers in December 2015 and never played a game for Los Angeles. He was sent to the Yankees in a minor deal in January 2016.
Oddly enough, he got to share a bullpen, briefly, with Miller in New York, pitching one game last year for the Bronx Bombers. He gave up two earned runs in two and two-thirds innings. He was put on waivers and claimed by the Royals on June 14 last year and then again claimed off waivers by the Tribe less than a month after that.
Olson has obviously been well-traveled. Before this season, though, he had little success in the big leagues. He was only a decent minor league hurler. Now, though, it seems the Indians may well have found a diamond in the rough.
Entering Saturday night’s game against the Royals, Olson had yet to allow an earned run in 15 outings, covering ten innings. His strikeouts per nine innings rate is 11.7, which is a big jump from 2015 when it was just 5.4. He is walking just 2.7 batters per nine frames, so he is not getting himself in much trouble, which also reflects a big reversal from his other brief MLB go-rounds.
Off to a fantastic start it seems this stay in the big leagues is going to last significantly longer than his last two.This go-round as Miller’s teammate has lasted much more than the one-game cameo of 2016. The two have had the chance to share a bullpen for a couple weeks, surrounding the 2017 All-Star’s DL stints. The pairing has afforded Francona an opportunity to have multiple left-handed options in his bullpen.
Miller’s patella tendinitis has put a bit of a damper on Cleveland’s great bullpen. However, the prevailing hope is he will be back to help lead the Tribe’s relief corps over the final couple weeks of the regular season and a possible return to the postseason.
Rather than to be without their superstar reliever and to go without a southpaw presence in the ‘pen, the Indians only have one of those issues to deal with thanks to Olson’s emergence. It has taken some time and will now take until Miller returns, but the Tribe seems to finally have its pair of lefty relievers that it has dreamed of having for years. Cleveland has its left-handed relief ace in Miller and now a potentially good left-handed specialist in Olson.
Olson seems to have finally landed in a spot where he can succeed and have a chance to be around a while. He turns 28 on October 2, so it would be a nice birthday present if he were celebrating a coming playoff series while being a part of an Indians’ Division Series roster.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images