Olsen has confidence in young staff

Lefty Olsen says young arms have right combo

JUPITER, Fla. -- For more than a year, the Marlins have heard predictions about how they were too young to compete, or that their payroll was too low to be regarded as serious contenders.

So in a way it is fitting that Scott Olsen, the brash left-handed starter, offers some forecasts of his own.

A year ago, Olsen was part of Major League history, one of four rookies to win 10 or more games for the same team.

Now, embarking on his second season, Olsen is raising the bar for the young Florida starting pitchers.

"If you have all of us in the rotation, and we all do as well as we did last year, we [all] could potentially win 16 games," said Olsen, who was 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA in 2006. "Obviously, that would give us a great shot to get into the playoffs."

Reminded that having five starters with 16 wins is a rare occurrence, Olsen responded: "It hasn't happened, but a lot of things that happened last year hadn't happened. So who's to say it can't?"

Forgive the Marlins for ignoring public perception and outsider expectations.

A year ago at this time, baseball insiders projected the then rookie-laden club would lose anywhere from 100-120 games. Yet, while the team finished 78-84, it was in the Wild Card hunt until mid-September.

"When everybody is saying you're going to lose 100 games, that's definitely a motivator," Olsen said. "You want to prove everybody wrong. If people are telling you that you can't do something, it's just natural human reaction to try to prove them wrong and do it.

"I think that helped a lot last year. We got to a point last year where we were 11-31, and we were as low as we could possibly be. I think we just got fed up with it."

The 23-year-old Olsen expects more good things from the Marlins in 2007.

Collectively, if the rotation of Olsen, Dontrelle Willis, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez stays healthy, the team likes its playoff chances.

"We arguably have one of the best rotations in the National League," Olsen said. "So it depends on who you talk to. We'll see what happens."

However, there are some injury concerns. Johnson is hampered by a sore triceps and he likely will start the season on the disabled list. And Sanchez had some shoulder concerns in January, and how he progresses will be closely monitored.

Olsen makes it clear that he isn't predicting that all five starters will win 16 games. He just says that each of them can do it.

"I just think that is possible," he said. "I know the guys that we have are capable of doing that. Whether it will happen or not, time will tell. But we definitely can do it. It's going to take a lot to do it."

A lefty with a deceptive windup, Olsen certainly is capable of posting some big numbers. His bread-and-butter pitch is an elusive slider that often breaks a number of different ways.

In his first full season, the left-hander set a Marlins rookie record for strikeouts with 166. He also logged 180 2/3 innings, plus another 6 1/3 innings of work in Triple-A.

Physically, he feels fine. He's bigger than he's been in the past, weighing in at 211 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame.

Not bashful to speak his mind, Olsen quickly points out that pitching wins in the big leagues.

The Marlins may still be young, but they have an impressive collection of arms.

"Obviously, pitching wins," Olsen said. "And we've got a good starting rotation that could do well. Timely hitting, and two-out hits are going to be key. If the offense can step up and do well, that also can help. But pitching wins. Bottom line. Pitching and defense. Those are the two things that are going to carry us."

As for predictions of a "sophomore jinx," Olsen isn't buying into that.

"I'm assuming that some second-year players along the way have not done well and that's how it all got started," Olsen said of the slump theory. "It's going to be harder [for us] because the hitters know us now. But we know the hitters better than we knew them last year. It just comes down to execution.

"If you keep the ball down and throw strikes, pitching will win. Look at the hitters. You can go into the Hall of Fame hitting three out of 10. So pitchers are being successful seven out of 10 times. Throw the ball down in the zone, and keep pounding the strikezone, and you'll be alright."

Informed of Olsen's confident comments, new manager Fredi Gonzalez said: "That sounds like something Scott would say."

A year ago, Gonzalez got to watch first-hand how the young Marlins staff performed. Then the Braves third-base coach, Gonzalez said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox would sit in the dugout before facing Florida and muse about how good the Marlins' pitchers were.

"They reminded Bobby of the '91 Braves pitching staff, and some of the staffs there that followed," Gonzalez said. "We have that here and it's deep."

Because there are a number of young arms developing in the farm system, Olsen doesn't take his job security for granted. He's well aware if he doesn't perform, a prospect is waiting in the wings for a chance.

One pitcher that already amazes Olsen is 20-year-old Chris Volstad, a 6-foot-7 right-hander who was taken with the 16th overall pick in 2005. Olsen says he plans on scouting out the web site of the Class A Jupiter Hammerheads, where Volstad is slated to open the season.

"He won't be there long," Olsen says, predicting a fast rise for Volstad.

While the Marlins rotation doesn't have a bunch of 100-mph throwers, Olsen admires the savvy of Florida's starters.

"Every one of us is very aggressive and doesn't want to lose," Olsen said. "That's the mentality that a lot of players have. And our five starters all have that.

"You want to outdo everyone else who pitches in front of you. If [Willis] goes out and throws seven innings, I want to go eight. If he goes eight, I want to go nine. There is your motivation right there."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.