Olson Has Become a Dependable Lefty in Tribe’s Bullpen
Craig Gifford | On 29, Apr 2018
There was a time, around this point last season, in which many people thought All-Star left-handed reliever Andrew Miller may be the most indispensable player on the Cleveland Indians roster. Indeed, he is extremely important to the ball club and its fortunes. The 2016 MVP of the American League Championship Series remains one of game’s best bullpen arms and is probably the best hurler out of Tribe manager Terry Francona‘s very talented bullpen. However, with injuries to their star relief ace last year, the Indians learned that their season does not need to be derailed without the big southpaw they added at the 2016 traded deadline.
What the Tribe, instead, learned a season ago is that it has another very good left-handed relief option in Tyler Olson. Olson is not in the class of Miller, though few are. Olson, however, may be coming into his own as a Major League pitcher in his late 20s.
Olson entered his age-27 season a year ago with just 12 games and 16 innings of MLB experience to his name. He was well traveled, unable to find a home at the big league level. Eleven games and 13 1/3 of those frames were with the Mariners in 2015. He had one lone outing with the Yankees the next season. He has spent time in the Dodgers and Royals organizations, though never tossing an MLB pitch with either franchise.
After being drafted by Seattle in the seventh round of the 2013 amateur draft, Olson found himself having been with five teams within little over three years. The Indians became that fifth club in July of 2016 when they claimed him off of waivers from the Royals. He spent the remainder of the season and the first half of 2017 with Triple-A Columbus, needing a break to get perhaps one last shot to prove that he belonged in the Majors.
He got that shot last July when Miller went down with patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Tribe fans held their breath at the thought of losing their star lefty right as the season’s stretch run was commencing. However, worry turned to wonder as Olson showed that he more than belonged on a big league roster.
Miller’s injury was the first of two separate stints absent in August with the same knee injury. Olson capably and then some stepped in as Cleveland’s top relief left-hander. From July 21 through season’s end, Olson made 30 appearances, covering 20 innings. He did not allow an earned run. He became a favorite of Francona’s out of the ‘pen, earning a spot on the Tribe’s ALDS roster. For good measure, he tossed another two scoreless frames in three appearances against his former Yankees ball club.
For the first time, Olson had found a home. He came into this year’s spring training as a virtual lock to break camp with the Indians and did just that. As for his scoreless inning streak, the question of just how long he could carry that was unfortunately ended in his first outing against Seattle. He allowed a pair of earned runs, prompting some to fear he could be coming back down to Earth.
Never fear, though, as that appearance seemed to be a hiccup in what is turning into a nice story about a pitcher finally catching on in the big leagues later than most. Since that ill-fated two-thirds of an inning to open the 2018 campaign, Olson had allowed just one more run in seven and one-third stanzas since, heading into Sunday. His ERA was down to 3.38 going into the weekend.
The Indians will need Olson to continue to fare well as Miller is back on the DL. On Wednesday, Miller seemed to tweak his left hamstring on his second pitch against the Cubs. On Thursday, he was placed on the 10-day DL with a left hamstring strain. The good news is, it is not to the right leg like last year and it is not his knee again. The injury appears to be minor.
What is not minor is that the Indians have found a southpaw who take up the mantle for their superstar lefty. Olson is no Miller, but he is plenty able to hold down the fort with Miller out. Olson is also proving that he is not perfect, no one is. However, what he is providing is quality work from a lefty reliever.
Being without Miller is still not optimal for the Indians. No team wants to be without an All-Star or its best relief pitcher. However, Miller not being able to pitch is no longer the horrific thought that it once was. That is thanks to the emergence of Olson. At 28, he is older than most baseball players when they break through. However, it seems that he may have finally found a home and somewhere he can stay a while in Cleveland.
Olson’s days of bouncing around, at least for now, are over, and the Tribe is certainly better off for that.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images