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Oliver Seeks New Heights


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Oliver seeks new heights

 

Starting pitcher Darren Oliver, who revived his career at hitter-friendly Coors Field last season, is fighting for a role as a fifth starter with the Marlins.

 

BY KEVIN BAXTER

 

kbaxter@herald.com

 

 

JUPITER - Darren Oliver took a huge step down this winter when he left the Colorado Rockies to sign a one-year deal with the Marlins.

 

Make that 5,200 steps down. That's the difference in altitude between Colorado's Coors Field, where the last row of grandstand seats are exactly one mile high, and Pro Player Stadium, which is about the same distance above sea level as Yao Ming's crew cut.

 

And that might just be enough of a difference to boost Oliver -- a 33-year-old left-hander -- to new heights.

 

''It was just tough, every week you were back and forth,'' said Oliver, who tamed the thin air of Denver to win 7 of 10 decisions at home but couldn't make the transition to pitching on the road, where he was 6-8 with a 5.45 ERA. ''You'd get real sore because there's not a whole of oxygen. Your muscles couldn't recoup fast enough.''

 

Marlins pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal thinks he understands. And the problem, he says, wasn't so much Colorado's thin air, but what Oliver did with it -- and what he couldn't do with the air when the Rockies dropped down nearer sea level.

 

''You get used to throwing there with the air. So you've mastered that,'' said Rosenthal, a minor-league teammate of Oliver's in the Texas Rangers organization in the early 1990s. ''Then you go to other ballparks, and what you've just mastered may not work.''

 

CLIMATE CONTROL

 

But with the Marlins training in Jupiter, where the hot, humid, sea-level conditions are identical to those at Pro Player Stadium, Oliver can use the next five weeks to acclimate. Not that he has not had success at sea level.

 

He won 27 games in a two-year span during his first stint with the Rangers in the mid-'90s, then came back in 2001 to win 11 games.

 

Oliver has also pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, compiling an 84-76 record and 5.02 ERA mainly as a starter. But he has also made 61 relief appearances in 10-plus big-league seasons, which gives the Marlins some options. Though Oliver is among a handful of pitchers contending for the fifth spot in the world champion's rotation, even if he wins that battle he could wind up in the bullpen when A.J. Burnett returns from reconstructive elbow surgery as early as May.

 

IN THE MIX

 

''We're not giving anybody the fifth starter job,'' manager Jack McKeon said. ''You've got to consider him, certainly. He's going to be probably the leading contender. But you can't tell right now.''

 

Which is fine with Oliver, who battled his way into the Rockies' rotation, then became their ace, after being invited to spring training as a non-roster invitee last year.

 

''Every time I come to spring training . . . I just try to go out there and prepare myself for the season,'' said Oliver, whose repertoire includes a high-80s fastball, slider and a cut fastball that runs in on right-handers. ''I [don't]just go into spring training all relaxed. I always went in there full throttle.''

 

What Oliver does regret, however, is that he wasn't a Marlin last season. And just so none of the newcomers forgets what happened, virtually every door and T-shirt at the team's training camp is stamped with a Marlins logo and the words ''2003 World Series Champions.''

 

''When you go out somewhere, like just going outside [the clubhouse], people get all excited about it,'' Oliver says. ''It's just tough that I wasn't a part of it. I hope that I can be a part of it this year.''

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

DARREN OLIVER

 

Left-handed pitcher

 

? Age: 33.

 

? Born: Oct. 6, 1970, Kansas City, Mo.

 

? Personal: Lives in Southlake, Texas, with wife Melissa and 3-year-old son Brock Christopher.

 

? Family ties: Is the son of former major-league infielder Bob Oliver, who batted .256 with 94 home runs in eight seasons with the Pirates, Yankees, Angels, Orioles and Royals.

 

? Lifetime record: 84-76, 5.02 ERA.

 

? Marlins ties: Played in the minor leagues with current Marlins coaches Perry Hill, Doug Davis and Wayne Rosenthal. 'It's like the longer I play, the more guys I either played with or against,' he said.

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Yes!? A Darren Oliver article...Marlins2003 will be relieved.

 

:p

 

Phew...boy that Metamucil really is a life saver.

 

It might have been nice if Baxter bothered to inform the readers that Darren was the winningest pitcher on the Rockies staff last season but I guess that would be too much to expect.

 

And the lead, "Darren Oliver took a huge step down this winter when he left the Colorado Rockies to sign a one-year deal with the Marlins..." sets a negative tone that implies something which is not the case, and is not borne out in the rest of the piece, but to the casual reader it conveys an inaccurate image.

 

The problem is not some much with the story per se, it's with it's author whose wordsmithing skills are mediocre at best. But what can you expect from someone Richard Bush hired.

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