‘It’s awesome’: Rookie Reese Olson shines, earns first career win as Tigers top Twins

Detroit News

Detroit — Rookie pitchers Reese Olson and Brendan White have been roommates for a couple of years, in Double-A, during spring training this year, in Toledo earlier this season. They talked a lot about pitching, as you might guess. Specifically, Olson picked White’s brain about his slider.

The slider, White’s money pitch, had always been a work in progress for Olson. They talked about grips, release points, sweeper vs. gyro spin, etc.

“He knows a ton about mechanics and metrics, all that stuff,” Olson said. “He really dives into it. So, living with him, having someone to talk to when I have a question about anything — it’s huge.”

White had to be mighty proud of his protégé Saturday night.

Olson’s slider was an absolute menace, badgering and befuddling Twins’ hitters for 5⅓ innings in the Tigers’ 3-2 win at Comerica Park. It was Olson’s first major league win.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 3, Twins 2

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s awesome. It’s what you dream of as a little kid. First getting called up and then getting your first win.”

Olson posted a career-best nine strikeouts, five with sliders. He punched out both Joey Gallo and Michael A. Taylor each with three straight sliders. With an elite average spin rate of 3,000-rpms, the movement on the pitch was coming late and sharp.

He got 11 swinging strikes on 15 swings at the slider.

“Since the start of this year, I’ve been throwing (the slider) hard and that’s been the biggest thing,” said Olson, who had a speed variance between 83 and 87 mph on the pitch. “Just picking up the velo. I think I’m throwing it four to five mph harder than I did last year.

“I just try to rip it every time.”

White’s slider has a 3,000-rpm spin rate, as well. Olson, who’s primary secondary pitch has always been his changeup, isn’t quite sure why he’s gotten such a spike in rpms.

“When I moved to the third base side of the rubber (earlier this year) it kind of changed,” he said. “I gained like 200-300 rpms, for whatever reason.”

He was also effectively spotting his 95-mph four-seam fastball, getting 11 called strikes and three called third strikes with it.

He came out throwing nothing but fastballs in the first inning, getting three quick outs with seven straight 94-96 mph four-seam fastballs — effectively exploiting the Twins’ aggressiveness.

“He watched the game last night, too,” manager AJ Hinch said. “They’ve been aggressive. It was important that, if he was going to be that fastball heavy early, he needed to locate. And he did. It was a good game plan for him and he executed it.”

As Olson was walking off the mound to a standing ovation, with a man on and man out in the sixth inning, his thoughts were on the one pitch he wanted back — the 3-1 fastball he fed Carlos Correa that was smoked 424 feet to the bricks in left-center field.

“I heard (the applause),” Olson said. “But honestly I was thinking about that pitch to Correa. But I heard the crowd. It was awesome and I really appreciate it.”

The Tigers strung four singles and walk together in a three-run second inning against Twins starter Pablo Lopez. Eric Haase, who had a pair of hits, drove in the first run with a single up the middle. Then with the bases loaded, Zach McKinstry, in a two-strike hole, dropped a single into shallow center field to score two more.

That was it, though, and the Tigers were hanging on for dear life at the end.

Gallo made it 3-2 with two outs in the seventh, ambushing a first-pitch sweeper from lefty Chasen Shreve and driving it into the first row of shrubs in center field. That was just the second homer Gallo hit off a left-handed pitcher and the first homer he’d hit off anyone since May 20.

Jason Foley, who relieved Shreve, gave up a double to Ryan Jeffers before getting the final out in the eighth. He gave up singles to Correa and former Tiger Willi Castro in the eighth before leaving with two outs.

Castro replaced Byron Buxton in the seventh. Buxton, who is 0-for-21 with 12 strikeouts against the Tigers this season, left the game with back spasms.

Alex Lange was summoned and put immediately under duress in the eighth. Third baseman Nick Maton booted a tough-hop ground ball by Donovan Solano, loading the bases. Lange went to 3-2 with Royce Lewis before striking him out with a nasty curveball.

Clutch work. But then Lange had to wait.

There was a terrible moment in the bottom of the eighth. The Twins summoned right-handed reliever Jose De Leon with a runner on and one out. On one of his last warm-up pitches, something must’ve popped or snapped in his elbow because De Leon dropped his glove, grabbed his elbow and immediately left the field.

“That was really scary,” Hinch said. “I saw (the warm-up pitch) go to the backstop and when I looked back up he was at the line. A lot of guys were shook up by that, just because of the respect we all have.”

The Twins put De Leon on the injured list immediately after the game with elbow soreness. He will undergo a battery of tests to determine the extent of the injury. Meanwhile, Lange was in the dugout waiting.

“That’s one of the hardest things to do for someone with his mentality,” Hinch said. “To come in and do a one-inning plus with a very small margin for error. I didn’t want to do it. I gave Jason a longer leash. But then you factor in the injury, the delay, the warm-up time for their reliever — that’s about as big a gap of time without widening the score that you’re going to get.

“That was super hard for him. Or it should’ve been. He didn’t make it look real hard.”

Lange struck out all three batters in the ninth around a one-out walk to earn his 12th save.

Game time for the series finale Sunday as been moved up to 12:10 p.m. to hopefully get it in ahead of inclement weather that is expected to hit the Detroit area later in the day.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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