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Inside Scott Olsen's life.


Hollyberry
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MIAMI GARDENS -- Baseball's detractors use one adjective more than any other.

 

Scott Olsen uses it, too, to describe most workdays.

"Boring?" the Marlins left-hander says. "Very."

 

What other athletes in North America's major professional team sports get to play just once every five games? A 12th man in the NBA? A spare NHL defenseman? An extra NFL defensive tackle?

 

None are critical components to their team's success.

 

Starting pitchers are. Yet they go virtually unseen between mound appearances. Once every five days, they aim to win a decision. On the other four, they face critical decisions. What mindless movie to watch. Which cell phone call to return. How short to get their hair trimmed. When to toss their keys to the clubhouse-roaming carwasher. No wonder so many starting pitchers are golf experts, card sharks and puzzle pros. They have plenty of opportunity to ponder and perfect other crafts.

 

"Shagging BP every day for four days in the heat," Olsen says. "Standing out there, doing nothing. That part gets very boring. Watching the games is fun. But yeah, we get a lot of down time."

 

Olsen, who faces the Padres tonight in San Diego, allowed the South Florida Sun-Sentinel to monitor how he passed the time between starts on a steamy Friday night, June 22, and an overcast Thursday afternoon, June 28.

 

What did we find?

 

That the 23-year-old puts some thought into preparing his body and mind for the next assignment, even if his guiding philosophy is to avoid thinking too much.

 

"Simple as possible," he says.

 

To some, pitching is science. To others, art.

 

To Olsen, a trap.

 

"I think you can overthink it," Olsen says. "Yeah, for sure."

 

Carl Pavano, who won 18 games for the Marlins in 2004, shared a secret with Olsen about that season. Six times, Pavano felt he had his best stuff, and knew he was unhittable. Six times, he had average stuff, and won by keeping his team close. Six times, he gave up runs and got lucky.

 

"I don't think pitching is that complicated," Olsen says.

 

Consider his start June 22 against the Twins. Olsen allows two runs in the first, then shuts them down for five innings, leaving with a 4-2 lead en route to a no-decision. He has success because he begins throwing his slider for strikes and, when he misses a spot, it's off the plate rather than through its center. Early in the start, with the Twins hacking at first-pitch fastballs, pitching coach Rick Kranitz suggests he keep his pitches down and away, let them hit it off the end of the bat.

 

"I said, 'All right,'" Olsen says.

 

All good. Simple as that.

 

Olsen knows after the Twins start that his next one will come against Pittsburgh the following Thursday, because the Marlins are sticking with a five-man rotation even with a Monday off day. He doesn't plan, however, on thinking about Pittsburgh until Sunday or maybe not until Kranitz's staff-wide review upon the Pirates' Tuesday arrival.

 

"I'll take a look at what their hot zones are, what their charts say," Olsen says. "Sometimes, I don't. With teams like the Mets, Braves, Phillies, Nationals, I don't have to."

 

He knows the players. He knows himself.

"I'm not big on scouting reports," he says. "That's not me. If a scouting report says a guy likes sliders down and in, well, my best pitch is my slider down and in, I'm going to throw it. I'm not going to throw a changeup and get beat. Everybody knows that's my worst pitch. I've got my problems trying to throw strikes. I don't want to confuse it."

 

Video viewing? Not big on that either.

 

"Not really," Olsen says.

 

Starters must chart pitches the night before they start, to get a feel for how hitters react to other pitchers.

 

"But I never look at that," he says.

 

Unless Taylor Tankersley is pitching. They are both left-handed, with some style similarities. Dontrelle Willis is left-handed, too, but Willis uses a sinker off his fastball.

 

"I don't do that," Olsen says.

 

Plus, Olsen has been following Sergio Mitre in the rotation.

 

"Right-handed, curveball," Olsen says. "I've got a left-handed slider. Certain guys, there's a pattern, what to do with them no matter what. Certain guys chase certain pitches. But in general, if you've got good stuff that day, that's what you go with. If a guy's strength is fastballs down and away, and I happen to be hitting fastballs down and away nine out of 10 times, I'm gonna throw it."

 

With Kranitz's blessing. Few young pitchers rival veterans like Greg Maddux when it comes to video study or pitch-charting. Mitre is deemed a workout warrior by staff mates, but when it comes to mental prep, he also considers himself "a visual guy" who can only adjust to what he sees in fron't of him.

 

"Most very successful pitchers in the big leagues have routines that work for them," Kranitz says. "And they stick to 'em. It all boils down to making your pitches and hitting the catcher's glove. That's how simple it should be."

 

♦♦♦♦♦

 

A start ends. Body work for the next immediately begins. Gatorade and water for hydration. Ice, stabilization and lightweight exercises for the shoulder. Then, usually, to bed.

 

"I could fall asleep right now," Olsen says, after his six sweaty, solid innings against the Twins.

 

For the next few days, he follows a physical program learned by shadowing former Marlins starter Brian Moehler last season. Former manager Joe Girardi, who didn't like Olsen's routine, told Olsen to write down everything Moehler did, every day. Then Olsen and Marlins strength coach Paul Fornier tweaked it to fit Olsen's needs. The goal: maintain offseason strength and conditioning gains.

 

So, Saturday, the day after the start, Olsen runs for 25 minutes. Leg press. Hamstring curls. Reverse lunges. Straight leg dead lifts. Lateral stepups. Walking sideways, forward, backward, with a rubber band beneath his feet. All while his upper body recovers. Water. Gatorade.

 

"Then watch the game, be a cheerleader," says Olsen, lounging in a cushy clubhouse chair, munching on popcorn, watching Barry Bonds face the Yankees.

 

Sunday? Side day. A 1 p.m. game start. At 10:57, Olsen long tosses with bullpen coach Steve Foster in the outfield as Mitre does his side work in the bullpen. At 11:14, Olsen throws for 15 minutes to bullpen catcher Pierre Arsenault under Kranitz's observation. Also on this day: 16 sprints of varying lengths, rotator cuff maintenance, back work to further stabilize the shoulder and core exercises.

 

Monday? Off day for the team. Chill at the house. Hang out in Coral Gables.

 

"No baseball activity whatsoever," Olsen says, back at the ballpark Tuesday. "Didn't even watch. Had no interest whatsoever in what was going on."

Tuesday? Ten "three-quarter poles": sprint from one foul pole to the other gap, walk the last quarter, sprint back the other way, walk, repeat. Light lower body lift. A few shoulder and rubber band exercises. Catch for 10 minutes.

 

"That's pretty much it," he says.

 

Wednesday? He watches Ice Age: The Meltdown and Step Up at home. Pasta, chicken, water.

 

"I'm about to have a banana and ice cream milkshake in a little while," he says, smiling.

 

That ranks as healthy for him. The Marlins will put some players on diets. Not Olsen. Just eat.

 

"I can eat anything I want," Olsen says. "Three o'clock in the morning, I don't care. Give me all the filet of fish you want from McDonald's. I'm 205 pounds dripping wet. I'm not going to vary too much from that."

 

Might more careful consumption give him more energy?

 

"Pitching doesn't make me tired," he says. "I don't run to the mound. I walk to the mound, I walk off the mound."

 

He is scheduled to take the mound at noon Thursday. So after fulfilling his pitch-charting obligation, he leaves in the fifth inning to get some rest. The self-proclaimed "night person," who is single and usually up past 2 a.m., passes out by 11 p.m. This time, no Tylenol PM required.

 

♦♦♦♦♦

 

Matt Treanor caught Olsen often in 2006. Enough to know this:

 

"He's a free spirit," Treanor says.

 

Sometimes, that has cost Olsen. The pitcher has had publicized confrontations with teammates Randy Messenger and Miguel Cabrera, and with fans, giving Brewers backers the middle finger after a June 1 start.

 

"My job with him is to get him to focus on something to almost distract him from other things, the stupid things," Treanor says.

 

In Treanor's view, preparing Olsen mentally is the most important preparation of all. So Thursday, after Olsen arrives at 9:45 a.m., eats an omelette with bacon and white toast, chats briefly with Kranitz at 11 (who tells him to stay with his strengths, which is whatever is working that day), and takes pregame warmups, he gets a pep talk from Treanor on the stroll from bullpen to dugout.

 

"We're not going to let the umpires, cheap hits or any type of condition on the field play out to be a negative for us," Treanor tells him. "We're going to dominate on the game with you out there on the mound staying focused."

 

Treanor also tells him that the club needs him to get it going.

 

"I think he likes knowing that it's not just him out there," Treanor says.

 

Dominate? Does Olsen ever. He starts by getting five swinging strikeouts on just 24 pitches. The strategy? Pound the strike zone with the Pirates trying patience. Get two strikes. Make them chase. Liberally use the changeup, a strength on this day.

 

"The very first time I threw it in the game, it was down," Olsen says. "I knew if it was down, it was going to be good. I probably threw 12 or 15, and maybe two stayed up."

 

Olsen allows a two-run homer to Adam LaRoche in the fourth, missing location on a fastball "by two feet." He allows the first three runners to reach in the seventh, and departs. Not tired, he says. Just not getting the same extension.

 

Still, he gets the win.

 

"And I get to start back all over tomorrow," he says.

 

But first...

 

"I'm going to make some macaroni and cheese, how about that?"

 

A nice, simple meal.

 

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/basebal...-sports-marlins

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