Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Scott Olsen was yanked after recording only five outs.
Velocity, of course, does not equate to victories, as Olsen found out during this 9-5 mauling at the hands of the Marlins. No matter how hard Olsen fired it toward the plate, it came back with even more velocity.
Base hit to left. Double down the left-field line. Homer into the Red Porch. It never ended.
Olsen faced 15 batters before getting the unceremonious yanking from Jim Riggleman. Ten of those batters reached safely, eight via base hit.
"Certainly, he can pitch at 92," Riggleman said. "But the other stuff has got to go with it. And tonight, he just didn't have the other stuff."
No, he didn't. Olsen's answers to reporters' questions about his performance were brief and blunt as could be.
What wasn't working for you tonight? "Everything. Next."
What adjustments can you make? "I just have to be better. I made terrible pitches. You make bad pitches, they hit them."
Were there any mechanical problems? "My mechanics are solid. I really don't know how else to explain it, other than making absolutely horse---- pitches. Simple as that."
Well, it's not really as simple as that. For some pitchers, a seven-run, eight-hit, 1 2/3-inning start could be written off as an anomaly. A blip on the radar screen. Nothing to worry about.
With Olsen, it's not that cut-and-dry. Every time he takes the mound, everyone watching is well aware of the shoulder injuries that have ransacked his time in Washington. Every poor outing -- and there have now been two of them in a row -- is met with skepticism, because of the left-hander's injury history.
Olsen, of course, says his arm feels great. And Nationals officials expressed no concern after this game about his physical state.
So then it becomes a question of Olsen's pure pitching performance. We've seen him pitch with incredible effectiveness this season; he's allowed two earned runs or less in six of his 11 starts. We've also seen him pitch with incredible ineffectiveness; he's failed to make it out of the fourth inning three times, including tonight.
Again, for most pitchers, this wouldn't be that tough a decision. Let him keep going out there every five days, and by season's end it should be clearer whether he figures into next year's plan or not.
But for the Nationals to do that with Olsen, it's going to cost a pretty penny. After getting non-tendered following labrum surgery last summer, Olsen signed a one-year, $1 million contract to return. But that contract included a bunch of incentives based on games started. Tonight, for his 11th start of the season, he earned an extra $250,000. For his 12th start (presumably Tuesday in Atlanta) he'll get another $250,000. After that, it's $100,000 for each start he makes the rest of the season.
Are the Nats willing to eat the equivalent of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen's combined 2010 salaries just to find out if Olsen has anything left in the tank? Depends on how much they think he fits into the 2011 rotation.
In the Nationals' perfect world, they'll have five better starters than Olsen next spring: Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Yunesky Maya, Jason Marquis and either Livan Hernandez or John Lannan. Of course, what are the odds of the perfect world being realized? Pretty slim.
So Olsen, if healthy and effective, would be a nice piece to have at the back end of a rotation that is heavy on right-handers. And the only way to find out if he can fit into those plans is to keep throwing him out there for the next eight weeks, no matter the cost.
Riggleman sidestepped the question of Olsen's future when asked about it tonight, insisting he's not thinking about such things at the moment.
"As far as next year, those things, you add it all up at the end and get everybody's opinion: the coaches, myself and Mike and Stan, and everybody will evaluate how we move forward at that point," the manager said. "He's had some good ballgames for us. Tonight, he didn't have a good ballgame. That's all we can do: Put him out there, see what we get and evaluate it at the end."
For his part, Olsen sounded like a pitcher itching to get back on the mound after tonight's fiasco. As bad as the results were, he was relieved to know his shoulder felt strong and he could throw the ball harder than he has in two years.
Does that make it even more frustrating, to know you're physically strong yet still couldn't get hitters out?
"Is it more frustrating? No," Olsen said. "I mean, you get your ass kicked, you get your ass kicked, regardless if you're throwing 88 or 95. It really doesn't matter. You're still out there just getting killed. So it's frustrating any way you look at it."
No less frustrating than it must be right now for the Nationals. It's mid-August, they still can't draw any substantive conclusions on Olsen and it's going to cost them significant dollars to perhaps have an answer by season's end.