Flanagan, Olson hold on just fine


SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was a something old, something new kind of day for the Orioles yesterday.

Mike Flanagan, on the comeback trail at the age of 39, turned the clock back again. And 24-year-old reliever Gregg Olson displayed a new wrinkle designed to restore honesty to opposing baserunners.

Flanagan pitched five scoreless innings and Olson had a runner thrown out trying to steal. You'd have to toss a coin to determine which is more newsworthy.

The performance by Flanagan in the 5-1 win over a team that vaguely resembled the Detroit Tigers was certainly more impressive. It probably moved the veteran lefthander to the brink of clinching a job on the Orioles. But, over the long haul, what Olson is trying to accomplish may be more significant.

In his first two years in the big leagues, opposing runners have taken liberties with his deliberate motion, stealing 25 bases in 28 attempts. It is a statistic that hasn't gone unnoticed by the righthander or his tutors.

"I'm concentrating more on the runners than I have in the past," said Olson, who made a good pickoff attempt before Bob Melvin unleashed a lightning bolt to catch Curt Flood at second base.

"It's nothing drastic," said Olson. "I'm just trying to be a little quicker."

Shortly after he signed with the Orioles, Olson had trouble adjusting to a faster delivery with runners on base. It wasn't until he was given the freedom to merely concentrate on the hitters that he became effective.

"Your first time in the big leagues, you think everybody is fast and that everybody is going to run," said Olson. "Then after awhile you realize they're not all going to steal and you can concentrate more on some than others. I'm becoming more comfortable with it [his delivery with men on base], but it's not something I've completely mastered."

Other than his preventive work against Ford, Olson wasn't particularly sharp in the two innings he worked. It raised the question of whether he needs more work.

"Not yet," said Olson, who has been deliberately restricted by manager Frank Robinson in the opening weeks of spring training. "I'd be concerned a little more later if I wasn't getting more work.

"Looking at the schedule, and figuring what could happen, I think I'll have enough [work] to be ready," said Olson. "It's nothing of any concern. I seem to be making some progress with everything right now."

Olson doubled his total innings yesterday, and has given up five hits and two runs in three appearances covering four innings. But, at this point, the Orioles aren't even interested in Olson's numbers.

The same can't be said about Flanagan, who has been something of a revelation as a non-roster invitee to spring training. He has pitched 12 innings without allowing an earned run, the most by any pitcher in the American League.

"He looks like the Flanny of old," said third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., who managed the Orioles' split- squad against the Tigers (the other half lost an 8-4 decision to the Yankees in Fort Lauderdale).

"I was very impressed with Mike when I saw him throw under the stands [at Memorial Stadium] in January," said Ripken. "I know that's not the kind of conditions you like to make judgments on, but you could tell he was throwing good again.

"Since we've been down here you can see that his arm has a lot of life to it -- his pitches have some pop. He's throwing the ball, not pushing it, and there's some bite to his fastball."

Flanagan wasn't as impressed with himself as he was in his last outing (four innings against the White Sox), probably because he didn't face as strong a lineup this time. "But I did have a real good sinker that I could rely on at any time," he said.

Dwight Evans remembers the pitch well. "That's the sinker I remember when I faced him," Evans said. "That pitch just darted away from you at the end. After he got to Toronto, it seemed like the pitch just floated out there."

If Flanagan continues to pitch anywhere near as effectively as he has so far, the Orioles may have to make some adjustments. Although manager Frank Robinson has said he has an open mind about how Flanagan might fit in, it is no secret most people figured he could best help in the bullpen.

But the lefthander has established himself as a legitimate candidate for the starting rotation. And if he extends himself beyond five innings his next time out (he went three and four innings in his first two appearances) he could work himself into a high ranking position.

Those are judgments Robinson said he would start to make after three appearances. That means, as of now, all candidates are on notice.

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