Olson in the running to be fifth starter

Olson in the running to be fifth starter

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Garrett Olson hasn't been seen on a mound anytime recently, but he hasn't disappeared from the race for Baltimore's vacant fifth starting slot. Olson has been working with pitching coach Rick Kranitz for the past week, and he will emerge from his eight-day absence to take the ball in Thursday's game against the Marlins.

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley juggled his rotation to give Olson another chance, sending Brian Burres and Matt Albers to pitch in Minor League games and stay on their regular turn. The pool for the No. 5 job in the rotation could contain as many as seven names, but Trembley wants a chance to analyze Olson on the mound against big league opponents.

"He's had some very good side sessions," said Trembley. "Kranitz has done some things with his delivery and his mechanics, but with Garrett, it comes down to the ability to command his fastball. He's thrown way too many pitches in the times he's been out this spring, and his command hasn't been what you'd want it to be against Major League hitters."

"We're just trying to get an angle on his fastball, throwing downhill," added Kranitz. "That's why he was off -- we wanted to make sure he was ready to go, in my mind. And that's why he'll start [on Thursday]."

Olson has rocketed through Baltimore's organization, and he has never recorded an ERA higher than 3.50 at any Minor League stop, but he appeared tentative in seven starts with the parent club last season. Trembley noted that Olson seemed to get out of his game, muscling up to throw harder instead of sticking with his command-and-control arsenal.

The result was a 1-3 record and a 7.79 ERA, numbers that stood in stark contrast to the rest of his body of work. Olson went 9-7 and finished third in the Triple-A International League with a 3.16 ERA last season, and he has notched a 21-17 record and a 2.91 mark for his Minor League career. Now the challenge is to bring that success to the big leagues.

"I think he has a tendency to try to please people, to maybe think more is better and to try to do things that aren't necessary," Trembley said before the Orioles' 6-2 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. "When I first got the report on him, I was in Triple-A. There were comparisons of him to other left-handers that have pitched for the Orioles -- guys that command, throw strikes, [have a] good curveball and good feel. He was a guy that came up to the big leagues last year and just obviously tried to overthrow it."

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Many analysts believe Olson could benefit from more polish at Triple-A Norfolk, and he may well end up getting that opportunity. Burres and Albers appear to be ahead of him at the moment, and fellow prospects Hayden Penn and Radhames Liz will also get a chance at the job. Baltimore may also evaluate Jim Johnson and Lance Cormier as starters.

Trembley said that nobody has really separated themselves from the pack, and that the competition for the fifth starter could go late in camp. And no matter who the Orioles choose, it could change again once the season starts.

"I'd assume the Triple-A pitching staff should be pretty good," said Trembley. "It's easy to separate some of them, but the concern is, you still have to cover your bullpen with two long guys. The ideal situation would be for one of these guys to step up and take it, and then if you can cover your bullpen with two long guys out of the mix, that's great."

Trembley said that the Orioles are taking their time for a simple reason -- to allow their new pitching coach and several of their new pitchers a chance to familiarize themselves with their new environment.

"You have a new pitching coach on this club," Trembley said. "To be fair to him -- and to the pitchers in this camp -- I think you want to give the pitchers as much of an opportunity as you can and let the pitching coach see them."

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