Each time Garrett Olson takes the ball, he must feel as if he's auditioning for a part in the Orioles' regular rotation. Not necessarily a lead role, but at this stage of his career, even the bit parts are appealing.
String together a few quality starts in a row, and you've made it big. Lay an egg the size of Ryan Howard's backside - fried in the heated environment of Yankee Stadium, no less - and you're just a tease who never will match expectations. Dim the lights.
Is it fair? Of course not. But since when is a 24-year-old's baseball life supposed to be fair? Some guys chew up the scenery. Others get spit out.
Olson's been on the spot before, but his Memorial Day start might have been the most important of his young career. It was a rematch of Wednesday night's flameout against the Yankees, when he lasted just 2 2/3 innings, gave up six runs and eight hits, and watched his 3.47 ERA suffer an allergic reaction to New York's offense, swelling to 5.19.
All that was missing was a note from his mother explaining his absence from the rest of the game. Privately, some people within or close to the organization grumbled about his performance and questioned whether he would ever be as good as advertised after the Orioles chose him in the supplemental round of the 2005 draft and watched him pick apart minor league hitters.
So what does Olson do? He goes out Monday against that same Yankees team and tosses seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out seven. He also applied an ice pack to his ERA, reducing it to 4.09. The fact that he was pitching in more comfortable surroundings shouldn't be held against him. The pressure was enormous, and he didn't flinch.
Olson has allowed three earned runs or fewer in five of his six starts since being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk. And in many ways, he was never better than Monday. Facing a team that scored 41 runs in its past five games, Olson trusted his fastball again. He used a slider that had so much bite, it should have come with an orthodontia bill. Yankees manager Joe Girardi raved about it afterward. And Girardi doesn't look like a guy who is easily impressed - unless someone finds a way to shut up Hank Steinbrenner.
"That's the best stuff that he's had probably in the last three starts," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I think the last start helped him pitch better today. I thought Olson made some adjustments from the last time. The last time he pitched, he was throwing mostly breaking balls and changeups. He didn't use his fastball. [Monday], he pitched with his fastball, and you need to do that.
"He didn't pitch very well the last time against the Yankees. I thought he let the game get a little out of control for him. Maybe it was pitching in Yankee Stadium in front of 50,000 people. But he certainly showed a lot of poise today. He pitched great."
Olson referred to the first meeting with the Yankees as "unfortunate," which is like referring to the Glenn Davis trade as "unfortunate." But being understated is a whole lot better than being an understudy.
"Nobody likes to have that kind of an outing, when you don't even get out of the third inning," he said. "But you just try to shake it and forget it and try to learn from your mistakes. Just go out there and try to make pitches the next time. You just try to rebound from that."
If the Washington Wizards rebounded like that, they might still be in the NBA playoffs.
"You can always dwell on it, but that's not going to do you any good," Olson said, still forced to dwell on it because reporters kept bringing it up. "Every fifth day, if you get the ball, you've got to go out there and get the job done. I think, from experience, I've had outings like the last one before. You come back with a strong attitude and try to attack the zone."
Keep doing that, and you'll get the part. Take a bow, Garrett Olson. You earned it.