BOSTON -- The reviews keep getting better. Injured closer Gregg Olson threw so well on the side Tuesday that the club now feels there is a realistic possibility he could return to the bullpen for the final homestand of the season.
Of course, there have been glowing reports before. The Olson comeback has been an on-again, off-again kind of thing for the past month or so. He has been written off for the season more than once, and could be just one setback away from giving up on rejoining the pennant race.
But even conservative, don't-assume-anything manager Johnny Oates was impressed with what he saw during Olson's last workout.
"He threw very well yesterday," Oates said. "Compared to the way he was throwing a week ago, he threw very, very well -- both the fastball and the curveball."
Olson is trying to come back from what was diagnosed as a slightly torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The club is understandably hesitant to push him, even at this critical stage of the season, but everyone knows what a healthy Olson could mean during the final days of a tight division race.
He has been out for five weeks, so it's difficult to predict how helpful he might be, but his strong workout was encouraging nonetheless.
"It was encouraging," Oates said. "We have no timetable, because we don't want him to do too much too fast. I want him to stay on the same course. I don't want him thinking he might pitch tomorrow or the next day because he's not ready for that. But if he continues to improve over the next week as he did the last week, it's a possibility."
"Everything is getting better," Olson said. "The last two workouts were real good, and the two before that showed improvement. Everything is moving in the right direction."
Oates continues to emphasize that the club is operating under the assumption that Olson will not pitch again this season. The closer committee of Alan Mills, Jim Poole and Todd Frohwirth has handled the situation so far, so no one is getting panicky yet.
There were rumors yesterday that the club had shown interest in veteran closer Dennis Eckersley, but Oates seems satisfied that the club can get by with the players he has.
Perhaps a year or two ago, a younger Olson would have forced himself anyway and further aggravated a potentially serious injury, but he obviously grasps how important it is for him to move cautiously in his effort to return to the mound.
Even after Tuesday's strong workout, Olson, 26, was hesitant to speculate on a timetable for his return.
He knows that his arm is his future and that a more significant ligament tear could take years off his career.
jTC "I think that's part of maturing," Oates said. "He realizes that there are certain limitations. That's just part of growing up."