Spin rate, pitch mix mark Olson’s emergence

Detroit Tigers

LOS ANGELES — A Wednesday night crowd of greater than 42,000 flocked into Dodger Stadium to watch a talented rookie starter with nasty pitches put on a show as he heads down the home stretch of an eye-opening season. Reese Olson threw them all a curveball, literally and figuratively.

It was a 2-2 pitch Olson dropped on Dodgers rookie outfielder James Outman for a strikeout leading off the fifth inning, and it came in at 3,023 rpm, according to Statcast. He spun another one better than that for a ball a few pitches earlier, and spun another earlier in the game. That’s three curveballs at 3,000 rpm or higher, to go with a slider that has been averaging 3,000 rpm all season.

On a night when the hometown fans showed up to watch Dodgers rookie hurler Bobby Miller and his 99+ mph fastball, that’s how Olson stole the show, and how the Tigers stole a game from this series to avoid a sweep with a 4-2 win.

“His stuff, his mix, was incredible tonight against a good-hitting lineup,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He was very relentless in the strike zone. When they were aggressive, he still stayed in the strike zone. When they were patient, he pounded the strike zone.”

This is what Detroit fans have been seeing from Olson all month. And at a time of the season when many rookie starters are running out of gas and/or ideas, Olson is getting better … scary better.

“I think he’s demonstrating that he belongs and that he can do different things to different opponents,” Hinch continued. “When his pitch mix is right, he’s as good as anyone that we have. I really believe that. And I think he’s gaining confidence.”

For reference, the Tigers have invested heavily in pitching over the last few years, and boast a rotation that includes Eduardo Rodriguez and Tarik Skubal. Olson was neither a highly ranked prospect nor a big-time acquisition, having been brought over from the Brewers for Daniel Norris at the Trade Deadline in 2021.

The Tigers scouted Olson in the High-A Midwest League that summer. Also in that league that summer was Miller, the Dodgers’ first-round Draft pick the previous summer out of the University of Louisville. On Wednesday, they teamed up to put on a pitching duel for six innings, combining to strike out the game’s first five hitters.

For Olson, it was a continuation. Wednesday marked the fourth consecutive outing in which Olson held his opponent scoreless through five innings, and the third consecutive start in which he did so on one hit or less. If not for Max Muncy, he might have taken a no-hit bid into the middle innings for the third consecutive start.

The early pitch mix was familiar, too. Olson’s 94 pitches featured threw a near-equal mix of sliders (25), changeups (24) and sinkers (24). The Dodgers whiffed on six sliders out of 15 swings, and had three more misses on changeups. Their bats slowed down enough for Olson to spot nine sinkers for called strikes.

Once the lineup turned over, Olson mixed in the curve. He threw just nine of them, but they were nasty.

“Honestly, I’ve been blessed to be able to spin the ball,” Olson said. “I’ve felt a lot better these past few weeks with my curveball, and I threw it a little bit more tonight later in the game. But I’ve been working on that pitch, getting it in the zone. I think that’s just a product of just gripping it and throwing it hard.”

Olson’s curveball averaged 2,918 rpm of spin Wednesday, up 137 from his season average. While it’s not rare for pitchers to throw both with high spin, it’s a select group that can do it effectively — which Olson does with his curveball and slider.

“It’s hard for pitchers to do both, and he does both exceptionally well,” catcher Carson Kelly said. “And to have the changeup, the sinker, four-seam, I mean, he’s got a lot of pitches. But I think he’s really coming into his own. It’s impressive to see, and I think every start you see him get a little bit better, a little bit crisper.”

Both hits off Olson came from Muncy, as did his lone run with two outs in the sixth. Olson threw a 2-0 slider over the plate, and Muncy crushed it to right for a homer.

Even with that, Olson has a 1.40 ERA in four September starts, having allowed four runs on 10 hits over 25 2/3 innings with seven walks and 18 strikeouts.

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