Washington Nationals pitcher Scott Olsen working on return to form
Monday, March 8, 2010
PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. -- Even before the Washington Nationals traded for him, Scott Olsen loved to visit the city. "I've seen every museum," he said; the National Museum of American History is his favorite. In school, he always preferred history to science or math. You don't have to solve problems in history, Olsen reasoned. You just have to learn and remember.
This spring, Olsen is trying to recapture a different kind of history: his own. Watching old video with coaches, Olsen last week discovered a change in his delivery that altered the way he pitches and likely led to his arm trouble. Immediately, he started working to reclaim the mechanics that made him a promising young pitcher for the Florida Marlins and to shed those that derailed him last year.
On Monday, Olsen will climb a mound in a game for the first time this spring and for the first time since last year, when shoulder surgery ended his first season with the Nationals. After signing a one-year contract, Olsen wants to prove last season -- a 6.03 ERA in 11 starts -- was an aberration owed to faulty pitching form.
"I feel real comfortable coming back here," Olsen said. "Now I just got to go out and prove that I belong here."
Olsen feels he knows now why his season sputtered last year, a realization sparked last week while he chatted with trainers. He has been exactly on schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery, and team trainers, as a matter of procedure, asked him how he felt. Olsen had an odd feeling something was different about his delivery.
The trainers suggested he bring it up with Spin Williams, the Nationals' pitching coordinator.
Williams, pitching coach Steve McCatty and Class AA Harrisburg pitching coach Randy Tomlin compared video of Olsen pitching last year to Olsen pitching earlier in his career. They reached a conclusion: During some time in 2008, Olsen's velocity dropped for some reason. To compensate, Olsen started rotating his upper body more, and his mechanics unraveled from there.
"Subconsciously, that's what happened," Olsen said. "At some point along the way, in my mind I went 'Holy hell, I'm throwing 85, 86. What's going on? All right, let's really try to throw the ball to the plate.' Things just got out of whack."
The group watched tape of Olsen pitching in 2007 against the Milwaukee Brewers. He stayed upright, his shoulders level, and extended his right leg toward the plate. He spread his arms, brought the ball high over his head, and drove down through the ball as he released it.
Then they watched Olsen from a game last season. He had become a "drop-and-drive" pitcher, something he had never been before. Olsen generated power by sinking low, his weight on his left leg, and tilting down his right shoulder before exploding toward the plate. His front foot landed close to his body and he rotated his upper body before he could throw.
"Which," Olsen said, "[messes] up your shoulder."
When Olsen turned his torso, it caused his arm to "drag" behind the rest of his body, Williams said.