Olson out of rotation picture

Olson out of rotation picture

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles made another incremental move along the way to naming a fifth starter on Tuesday when they optioned Garrett Olson to Triple-A Norfolk. Now that Olson's gone, Baltimore appears to be left with two favorites -- Brian Burres and Matt Albers -- and two darkhorses -- Jon Leicester and Jim Johnson -- to round out the rotation.

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley confirmed that quartet after Tuesday's game and said that he needs to differentiate better between Burres and Albers, either of whom could make the team as a starter or reliever. Trembley also said that he saw improvement from Olson but hopes to see more before bringing him back for another big league audition.

"Olson needs better command of his fastball," said Trembley. "He made improvements, but he needs to repeat his delivery and he needs better command of his fastball. His breaking ball has gotten better, but he's another guy who I don't think would have a whole lot of success until he improves in those areas. ... He's not that far away."

Olson, much like former top prospect Hayden Penn, had been billed as a lead contender from the beginning of the spring. He didn't do anything to pitch his way out of the equation, but the Orioles had him spend a lot of time working on the sideline. Olson went eight days in between outings before pitching three scoreless innings late last week.

The southpaw said he wasn't really surprised to hear the news, but he admitted that he'd hoped to stick around longer.

"I don't know that I'd say [I'm] surprised. But no matter what kind of situation it is, when you hear it, you're kind of in shock," he said shortly after Tuesday's game started. "Then it settles in, but they were really good about it. They were honest about what I need to work on. I'm just going to go down there and keep working on being consistent and be ready to go."

Olson, the 48th overall selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, said that he hopes to get his game back on track at Triple-A Norfolk. The left-hander finished third in the International League with a 3.16 ERA last season but struggled in seven big league starts. Now, he hopes to round out his game and be ready for his next promotion.

"They think all my pitches are great," he said of Baltimore's coaching staff. "They think my fastball command is improved, but they think it could still be a little better. I have to work on the consistency of my delivery and continuing to spot my fastball a little better. That's what I've been working on. It's a little better, but it needs work."

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The Orioles sent Albers to the starting rubber for the first time Tuesday, and the right-hander had mostly mixed results. Albers pitched into the fourth inning and allowed three hits and three earned runs, an outing that neither the pitcher nor the manager seemed particularly enthusiastic about afterward.

"He has movement on his fastball, but I don't think he got into rhythm from the get-go," said Trembley. "It was the first time Ramon [Hernandez] had caught him, and it showed. He had sink [and movement] on his fastball."

"I was pitching a little bit away from my strengths and trying to throw too many changeups and curveballs early," added Albers. "I was trying to get the hitters off balance instead of really going after them with the fastball. That's something that I have to work on. I think my command early was a little bit off, but I made the adjustment and felt pretty good."

Albers, who was acquired in the offseason trade for Miguel Tejada, has benefitted from a few unrelated situations. First, he was helped out by a season-ending shoulder injury to fellow acquisition Troy Patton, the early favorite for the fifth starter job. And then he outlasted challenges from homegrown -- yet untested -- options like Penn, Olson and Radhames Liz.

Now Albers finds himself in a two-man race with Burres, and Trembley has said that he'd like to have one of them serve in a long relief role. In other words, even if they don't break camp as a starter, there should be a spot for one or both of them. Albers is aware of that, but he's trying not to let it affect the way he goes about his business.

"There are a lot of different ways you can put pressure on yourself," he said. "I try to keep it as simple as possible, just go out there, prepare myself, get ready and try to attack the zone. I'm just trying to go out there and pitch to the best of my ability and show them that I can throw strikes and get guys out. That's pretty much all I can do."

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