Olsen, Nolasco making strides

Olsen, Nolasco making strides

JUPITER, Fla. -- In a game that finished a 2-2 tie, the Marlins saw some encouraging signs from two pitchers who may end up in the starting rotation.

Ricky Nolasco worked a spring-best five innings against the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon, giving up one run on two hits with two walks and three strikeouts. And Scott Olsen was back on the mound for the first time since March 2.

Olsen has been dealing with left shoulder tendinitis. In three innings of relief, the 24-year-old gave up one hit and had a strikeout. He threw 30 pitches, and then concluded his day by adding 15 more tosses in the bullpen.

Previously the frontrunner to be Florida's Opening Day starter, Olsen now is going to be slotted fourth in the rotation, and he is in line to pitch against the Pirates on April 4.

Actually, Olsen taking the ball in Game 4, is the only rotation spot announced by manager Fredi Gonzalez.

In his next spring outing, on Tuesday against the Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Olsen is scheduled to start.

Not taking the ball on the March 31 opener against the Mets is a bit disheartening for the left-hander, but he is now focused on staying healthy in '08.

"It's just one of those things, and hopefully this isn't my only shot at having an Opening Day start," Olsen said. "I hope things go well for me this year, and I will be in the running for Opening Day next year."

Courtesy of two early-season off days, the Marlins plan on going with four starters until April 13. The only two locks are veteran Mark Hendrickson and Olsen.

The other candidates are right-handers, Nolasco, Rick VandenHurk, Chris Volstad and Burke Badenhop.

Asked his choice for Opening Day, and Olsen said the 33-year-old Hendrickson.

"If I had to tell you right now, I'd tell you Hendrickson," Olsen said. "He's throwing the ball very well. He has the most experience. He is the oldest, and he is the veteran of the starting rotation."

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Nolasco, meanwhile, showed signs on Thursday of why he was an 11-game winner as a rookie in 2006. Last year, he dealt with elbow problems, and he appeared in just five games with the Marlins.

"A lot of positive things came out of today," said Nolasco, who gave up a run in the first inning, and then settled for the next four. "It was just another step in the direction that I want to go.

"We were working on slowing myself down, and my changeup today was a good pitch for me."

Nolasco offers some versatility because he also could pitch in relief, if the team feels he isn't ready to be a starter.

"I'm ready to prove that I should be here and do whatever it is that they want me to do," Nolasco said.

When Olsen got into the game Thursday, he immediately challenged the heart of the Cardinals order. He also got the benefit of a strong wind blowing in from left field, which prevented a blast that Troy Glaus hit from clearing the fence. Instead of allowing a homer, Glaus settled for a fly out, as left fielder Josh Willingham made the catch near the wall.

Immediately after the ball was hit, however, Olsen thought Glaus had hit a home run. The Marlins' left-hander raised his glove and asked home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez for another baseball.

"Yeah, I was ready [for another baseball], and Angel was ready to give me one, too," Olsen said of the exchange after Glaus made contact. "Willingham some how got under it. I guess the wind held it up."

Olsen may make his final Spring Training appearance on March 29, against the Yankees at Dolphin Stadium.

"I'll treat that like my Opening Day," he said.

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