Chicago − The baseball he threw in his three-pitch strikeout of Luis Robert, Jr., his first big-league strikeout, was already tucked away in his locker.
“Pretty sure my dad is going to want to do something crazy with it,” he said, smiling.
Reese Olson painted himself a memory Friday night, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his Major League debut, with his mother, father, brother, girlfriend about about 30 other family members and friends at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“It’s definitely a day I will never forget,” he said.
Olson, 23, summoned from Toledo to take the rotation spot of injured ace Eduardo Rodriguez, lost his no-hitter in the sixth and the Tigers ended up losing the game 3-0 to the White Sox. But as manager AJ Hinch said afterward, the loss should in no way diminish Olson’s performance.
“I’m happy with Reese,” Hinch said. He was calm, in control and he was nasty. He should take away a lot of pride that came in showed he could pitch at this level. His first start against a team that thrives on momentum and he never really gave them any momentum until his last inning.”
As you watched Olson mow down White Sox hitters, striking out six, you had to wonder. How the heck did he have an ERA over 6.0 and 1.7 WHIP against Triple-A hitters?
Funny thing about that: His struggles at Toledo earlier this season fueled his performance Friday.
“Yeah, my early struggles in Triple-A helped me a lot tonight,” he said. “Just calming down and not getting sped up. That was one of the biggest lessons I learned in Triple-A. I’m happy that I struggled for that month for the experience. So I knew how to react out there.”
Olson endured a brutal five-start stretch with the Mud Hens, including one start where he didn’t get out of the first. He credited Mud Hens pitching coach Doug Bochtler with guiding him out of that slump and he also happened to tune in to a Tigers’ post-game broadcast and hear some magic words from Alex Lange at just the right time.
“I was just getting sped up when something didn’t go my way,” Olson said. “I’d give up a hit or a walk and things would speed up and then snowball. Just learning to calm down. I saw an interview with Lange and he said, ‘Just chill and make pitches.’
“I was right in the middle of my struggles and I took that and went with it.”
Olson, the club’s No. 11 prospect, hardly seemed fazed by the level, by the hostile stage or by some of the household names he had to face. He didn’t allow a hit and faced two batters over the minimum through five innings. The two base runners reached on a walk and an error (by first baseman Spencer Torkelson).
He seemed in complete control. His four-seam fastball and sinker were humming at 96 mph on average. He commanded both his slider (with an elite average spin rate of 2,946 rpm) and changeup. He was throwing his changeup effectively to left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters.
He even landed a couple of first-pitch curveballs.
“It’s awesome knowing I can pitch in this league,” he said. “That’s a big confidence boost going forward.”
With his pitch-count low (79) and with two right-handed hitters coming up that Olson had handled. So even though Olson hadn’t pitched more than five innings in a single outing all year, Hinch sent him back out for the sixth.
“We were going to let him go a couple times through their order,” Hinch said. “He hadn’t even gotten through their order two times. He was doing good. But I was going to protect him at (left-handed hitting Andrew) Benintendi.”
Romy Gonzalez, the No. 9 hitter, who broke up Michael Lorenzen’s perfect game bid last week at Comerica Park, slapped a single to end Olson’s bid. Tim Anderson, the leadoff hitter, followed with a two-strike single.
“Maybe I got a little tired in the sixth,” Olson said. “I didn’t execute two, two-strike pitches. Other than that, everything was working for me.”
That ended Olson’s night. That both of those runners scored – RBI singles by Andrew Benintendi and Eloy Jimenez off reliever Will Vest – only slightly diminished Olson’s performance.
“I told him when I took him out, I can’t wait to give you the ball again in five days,” Hinch said.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Olson is the first Tigers to throw at least five no-hit innings in his debut since Bill Slayback threw seven on June 26, 1972.
He probably deserved a better fate. But it was a frustrating night for the Tigers’ hitters.
Starter Mike Clevinger, as he used to do frequently when he pitched for Cleveland, blanked them on three hits over five innings.
Javier Báez got the first one with two outs in the fourth. As he was getting loudly booed and heckled by the Southsider fans, he laced a triple to gap in right-center but ended up stranded there.
Stranding runners was a theme.
In the fifth, with runners at first and third, Zach McKinstry blasted a ball to gap in left-center that looked like it would score two runs. But center fielder Luis Robert, Jr., ran it down at the wall.
In the sixth against reliever Kenyan Middleton, Eric Haase led off with a double and went to third on a ground out. But again, McKinstry was robbed of an RBI hit. This time it as second baseman Gonzalez who made a diving play going to his left and threw out McKinstry.
In the eighth, Akil Baddoo walked and Baez singled. But reliever Joe Kelly struck out Torkelson and Nick Maton, then got Haase to bounce one back to him.
“We didn’t push anything across,” Hinch said. “We had multiple runners in four of the nine innings. That’s pretty frustrating. We needed a big hit or just advance a guy 90 feet and try to create some opportunity. That eluded us.”
The Tigers were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base.
Anderson, who had eight hits in the four games at Comerica Park, doubled in the White Sox third run off reliever Mason Englert in the seventh.