For four innings on Tuesday night, Scott Olsen's third and most pivotal start of the spring could be split and spun from myriad angles. The left-hander gave up eight hits and three runs in that time, sure, but his fastball was sitting between 89 and 91 mph on the radar gun, depending on whose gun you were reading, and his stuff had more life than it had all spring.
Then the fifth inning rolled around, and the room for perspective vanished. Olsen gave up three more runs, two of them when he threw an 83-mph "sinker that didn't sink" and watched the Tigers' Gerald Laird blast it halfway up the berm in left field. He was pulled with one out in the fifth inning, and ended his night having allowed six runs on 12 hits, taking the loss in the Tigers' 6-2 defeat of the Nationals at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Manager Jim Riggleman called it the best he'd seen Olsen throw. Olsen himself said he was pretty happy with the first four innings, and needed to learn from the fifth. But the question still remains: Is Olsen pitching well enough to prove he deserves a spot on the roster?
The Nationals will have to make that determination soon, especially with Craig Stammen making a strong push for the final rotation spot and looking completely recovered from his arthroscopic elbow surgery. Olsen will have one more start before the March 31 deadline where the Nationals could release him without having to pay him his full $1 million salary for 2010. They could also put him on the disabled list or option him to the minor leagues. But progress, by then, will have to be a little easier to define.
"It is a competition to get in the rotation," Olsen said. "I assume they're making their choice on results. I don't sit in on the meetings. But I don't want to give up six runs every time out."
Ivan Rodriguez: The catcher went 2-for-3 with an RBI double, and is hitting .370 this spring. It's a little much to expect him to bring the kind of offensive production he did earlier in his career, but he's showing he's got more in the tank left than people expected.
Matt Capps: In just his second shutout inning of the spring, Capps struck out two and allowed one hit. "I think that's the best I've seen him throw this spring," Riggleman said. "He threw a couple good sliders. He seemed like he had the best velocity on his fastball. He threw strikes, and had a nice inning."
Miguel Batista: He came in for Olsen and pitched well for 1 2/3 innings, allowing only a hit while striking out two. Batista isn't in the mix to be a starter anymore -- the fact that he's only getting an inning or two at a time makes that clear -- but he could still make the team as a long reliever.
Scott Olsen: Olsen began the game throwing 91 mph on the stadium radar, 89 on the scouts' guns. But he didn't maintain that velocity, dipping by 2-3 mph as the game wore on, and the homer he allowed to Laird was on an 83-mph belt-high sinker. He said he felt like he's getting close to being ready for the season, but most of his pitches lacked movement, and he got hammered as a result.
Adam Dunn: The first baseman went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, and had a couple of balls get by him at first base that turned into hits. Dunn is hitting .179 this spring, and has yet to homer.
Josh Willingham: The left fielder's in the middle of an outstanding spring, but everybody ends up here sometime. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
What to watch:
The key from Tuesday's game was Olsen, and the takeaway going forward will be how he responds. If this start was semi-critical for Olsen's chances to make the team, the next one will be crucial. His velocity was better, but he threw a large number of belt-high pitches and had plenty that didn't move. Especially when two -- or possibly three -- of the rotation spots could be different by midseason (assuming Stephen Strasburg, Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler are in the mix), it remains to be seen if the Nationals will pay Olsen $1 million to start the season in one of them.
The Nationals head further west to Tampa for another night game -- this one against the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. MASN and MASN HD will carry the game live. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m., and Livan Hernandez will start for the Nationals.
Enjoyed being back on the live thread tonight (recap is here We'll do it again tomorrow evening. Talk to you then!