Major League Baseball will kick off the 2019 season with its earliest start ever (excluding international openers) as all 30 teams will take the field on March 28. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 49 days
Sometimes, the wait is worth it. Such has been the case for southpaw Tyler Olson, who is expected to return to the number 49 for a third straight season with the Indians.
It wasn’t long ago that Olson was claimed by the Indians on waivers, a castaway joining his fourth different organization in six months and his fifth in 19 months.
Drafted in the 17th round in 2012 by the Oakland Athletics while pitching for Gonzaga, Olson returned to school and jumped to the seventh round the following year when he was selected by the Seattle Mariners. A starter in their farm system for much of his first two years, he moved into the bullpen in 2015, getting a non-roster invite to spring training that year. He started the year with the M’s, joining the club’s relief staff. He went 1-1 in eleven outings with a 5.40 ERA and a 2.10 WHIP at the age of 25 as walks and an ugly hit per nine rate led to all sorts of problems for the young hurler and a return trip to the minors.
That winter, he was designated for assignment and dealt two days later to the Los Angeles Dodgers for future considerations. His time with the Dodgers organization was extremely short-lived, however, as less than a month later, he was on the move after designation, packaged with Ronald Torreyes and sent to the New York Yankees for infielder Rob Segedin and the familiar player to be named later or cash.
Olson started the year on the farm, working for the Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate with lackluster results as both a starter and reliever. He got two separate one-day calls to New York, working in one game and allowing a pair of runs on three hits and two walks in two and two-thirds innings before he was designated for assignment in June. The Kansas City Royals claimed him and optioned him to the minors, but after five relief appearances for their Omaha affiliate, he was once again designated for assignment. This time, he landed with the Tribe, who optioned him to Columbus. His results there were little better – he went 1-0 with a 5.91 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP with on-going command issues in nine appearances. He was even designated for assignment again, but this time went unclaimed and was outrighted back to the farm club.
Olson was a non-roster invitee to spring training in 2017, but began the season with Columbus. This time, his results were intriguing as he showcased a 3.21 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 34 Triple-A appearances. His walk rate was under control, he was averaging just six hits per nine innings of work, and his strikeout rate was a professional best 11.6 per nine. The Indians added him to the 40-man and 25-man roster in July and, with the exception of a brief option less than a week in length at the end of July, he remained with the Tribe. His numbers with Cleveland were nothing short of superb – he worked 30 scoreless appearances for a perfect 0.00 ERA. In those 20 innings of work, he struck out 18, walked six, and gave up just 13 hits (0.95 WHIP).
He started the 2018 season in the Indians bullpen, but was part of the troubled mix that struggled to get through games unscathed. His April numbers were deceiving, as he allowed just seven base runners in nine and two-thirds innings of 12 games, but five came in to score despite striking out 14, walking none, and holding the opposition to a .194 average. Walks flooded his stat sheet in May, as he walked five in the month and a .308 average against led to five more runs tagged to his line. In June, he allowed five more runs to score and had the damage hit in just an inning and one-third of work before he landed on the disabled list with a left latissimus dorsi strain. After his rehab assignment, he was optioned back to Columbus, and after another quick shuttle to Cleveland and back, he rejoined the parent roster for the rest of the campaign at the end of August. Like his similar impressive run the previous year, he ended on a good note, as in his 13 appearances over the last two months of the season, he allowed five hits and four walks in nine and one-third scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts.
Right-handers were a big issue for Olson in 2018, as he allowed a .314 average to them in 12 1/3 innings with 15 strikeouts, seven walks, and ten runs scored (6.57 ERA and 1.86 WHIP). Left-handers, as would be expected, struggled against him as the matchup card gave Olson an edge to the tune of a .182 average against over 15 innings with 25 strikeouts, five walks, and six runs scored (3.60 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP).
With the loss of Andrew Miller in the offseason via free agency but the return of Oliver Perez, the Indians will continue to run three left-handers in their ‘pen. With All-Star closer Brad Hand leading the staff in a more traditional, non-matchup role, manager Terry Francona will be able to utilize Olson and Perez in the usual LOOGY patterns.
Olson has shown himself capable of being a dependable reliever for stretches. He will hope that his overall numbers from 2018 (2-1, 4.94 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) do not carry over, but that he can use his better finish and a reduction to his walk rate to establish himself as a key arm in the Indians bullpen for the years ahead. If he can do that, he could provide Cleveland with some stability in the relief corps as a player under contract through the 2023 season.
If you were a fan of the Cleveland Indians in the 1980s, chances are you were well aware of right-hander and #49 Tom Candiotti and his mastery of the elusive knuckleball. Candiotti’s name is forever tied to the pitch, just like his predecessors Phil Niekro, Joe Niekro, and Charlie Hough, and more recent successes like R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield.
The “Candy Man” broke into the professional game in 1980, joining the Kansas City Royals after spending time at St. Mary’s College of California and in independent ball in Canada. After a year in the Royals farm system, he was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Rule 5 draft and progressed through their minor league system, but he missed the 1982 season while undergoing the still new Tommy John surgery, performed by Dr. Frank Jobe, after dealing with a right elbow injury.
Unlike some of the others before him (with the exception of John himself), Candiotti recovered from the experimental procedure and would make his Major League debut with ten appearances after his early August call-up in 1983. He made eight more appearances in 1984, but after playing at Double-A and Triple-A for the Brewers in 1985, he signed with the Indians.
Some of the best years of his career came in Cleveland, despite being surrounded by unimpressive teams who failed to perform to their expected levels. He won what would be a career-high 16 games in his first year with the Indians in 1986 while throwing nearly three times as many innings (252 1/3) as he had pitched in his first two seasons in the Majors combined. He was also the top pitcher in the American League in complete games with 17.
His time in the Cleveland rotation also gave him a great opportunity to learn from one of the best at his craft.
“Being able to work with Phil Niekro full-time was kind of an ‘Are you kidding me?’ scenario,” Candiotti said in a 2014 interview with Steve Eby of Did The Tribe Win Last Night. “He’s one of the greatest knuckleballers of all-time and I had him as like my own pitching coach. I worked a lot with Knucksie and he taught me so much…not only about becoming an accomplished knuckleball pitcher, but about how to handle yourself, how to give credit where credit is due and how to carry yourself as a Major Leaguer. I’ll never forget all of the time that he spent with me and the lessons that I learned from him.”
As the Indians struggled during the Sports Illustrated cover jinx season of 1987, Candiotti’s numbers did too as he went 7-18 with a 4.78 ERA in 32 starts. The team did show signs of improvement over the next several years and Candiotti was a reliable and durable innings eater in the rotation, averaging 14 wins and 208 innings pitched over the next three years.
The Indians were in a different place in 1991, despite having some pieces worth building around. After failing to find success with a core roster of players entering some of the prime years of their careers as the 1980s closed, the team traded star Joe Carter ahead of the 77-85 1990 season and would falter badly in 1991 in what would become a 57-105 embarrassment.
Candiotti started 7-6 with a 2.24 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and three complete games through his first 15 starts, but the club shipped him to Toronto on June 27 with outfielder Turner Ward. The Blue Jays, who had been actively looking for pitching and outfield help and had been linked to the Indians back in spring training as a potential trade partner, got both from the Tribe while Cleveland brought back pitcher Denis Boucher, outfielders Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten, and cash considerations.
Candiotti was not a fan of his relocation.
“If I was a fan, a real loyal Cleveland Indians fan, I’d be upset,” Candiotti was quoted in The Plain Dealer on June 28, 1991. “The players change year in and year out here. It’s hard for Cleveland fans to relate to the players.
“I’m more frustrated than anything. I really legitimately wanted to stay here. I don’t know how many times I let the front office know. This trade was done purely because of economics.”
Candiotti shared a different perspective years later in his 2014 interview with Did The Tribe Win Last Night’s Eby.
“It was a tough one,” Candiotti said of the trade. “I kind of knew that it was going to happen just from some conversations with John Hart, who was very, very honest with what he was trying to do here. They had to get young and get some youthful players. I was just one of those pieces that he was looking to trade. I didn’t want to get traded because my mom grew up in Youngstown and I had friends and family that would always come to every single game that I pitched here. I really didn’t want to leave. I loved Cleveland and felt comfortable here. So I was very disappointed when I did get traded even though I knew it was going to happen.”
In his new home north of the border, Candiotti continued a career year on the mound while helping the Blue Jays replace Dave Stieb. He went 6-7 with a 2.98 ERA over his final 19 starts and led the Toronto staff with three complete games. The club won the American League East and Candiotti made a pair of starts in the American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins, but was hit hard in his first two career postseason appearances as the Blue Jays came up short in their World Series pursuits.
Unfortunately for Candiotti, his time in Toronto ended a year or two too early. The Blue Jays would return to the playoffs in each of the next two seasons and would win the Fall Classic each time. A free agent after the 1991 season, Candiotti instead headed west to Los Angeles, signing a four-year contract with the Dodgers. He would stay in Dodger blue for six years in total, putting together a 3.57 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP over those half dozen seasons. He returned to the postseason in 1996, working two scoreless innings in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, and split his final season in Los Angeles between the rotation and bullpen before becoming a free agent and moving up the coast to Oakland.
He played parts of two seasons with the A’s, leading the league in losses with 16 in 1998. After a rough start to his 1999 season, he was released in the middle of June and would return to Cleveland at the end of the month, playing his final seven Major League games with the Indians while going 1-1 with an 11.05 ERA and a 1.77 WHIP before his release just over a month later.
He ended his 16-year Major League career with a 151-164 record with a 3.73 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 2,725 innings of work.
Following his playing days, Candiotti spent time in the Indians front office as a special assistant to the general manager and was named one of the 100 greatest Indians players ever. He moved on to work for ESPN and also the Toronto Blue Jays as a television analyst. He logged some screen time in the baseball movie “61*” and became a member of the International Bowling Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2007. He has worked as a radio analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2006.
Photo: AP Photo/Jim Mone
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