After he pitched 110 innings last season, it was decided that Tyler Olson would be better off sitting out the summer, staying away from competitive baseball and working out instead.
And working, too.
When the Gonzaga left-hander wasn’t exercising with a trainer, he was helping out the team’s groundskeeper.
“I actually mowed our baseball field, our soccer field, our practice soccer field,” said Olson, a fifth-year senior. “I pretty much did all the things that he does.”
Now he’s mowing down batters in the West Coast Conference, teaming with All-American teammate Marco Gonzales to comprise one of the nastiest pitching duos in the league.
Olson said anchoring Gonzaga’s rotation is a point of pride for him and Gonzales. Their solid numbers are especially important in a season in which the Bulldogs lack the home-run power they had last year.
But the results have been better, thanks partially to Gonzaga’s pitching. Olson is 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 71 innings. Gonzales is 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 70 innings.
“It’s not so much that we have to be perfect, but we understand that damage control is a big thing, getting guys out,” Olson said. “We’re also not trying to do too much.”
“The emphasis is definitely on pitching and defense,” Gonzales said.
Olson and Gonzales are good friends, and they benefit from each others’ successes. Perhaps the biggest difference for Olson this season is that he pitches on Saturdays instead of Fridays, meaning he gets to sit in the dugout and watch how Gonzales pitches to opponents the day before he has to do the same.
The advantage, Olson said, is in “seeing what he does and how he attacks them – if he gives up a hit, what does he do? If he gets him out, what does he do? So I can shadow.”
Gonzales, a junior who also bats .336 and is projected as a first-round pick in this summer’s Major League Baseball draft, said he spent last summer working on developing his cutter while playing for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.
The cutter breaks sharply and runs about 82 mph, Gonzales said, and he throws it anywhere from five to 15 times per game. It’s a pitch that wasn’t always a consistent complement to his fastball, curveball and change-up, but “this spring it’s been really effective for me,” he said.
He appreciates having someone like Olson who works just as hard throwing after him.
“He’s a horse, man,” Gonzales said. “He’s just a super athlete and competes on the mound for us every day. It pushes me to work that much harder, and to know that he’s coming in behind me is a great feeling. He’ll get a second win for us on the weekend and keep working hard for us.”
Olson and Gonzales are that much closer to their goal of reaching the postseason before their Bulldogs careers are over. That’s what motivated Olson, a Spokane native and graduate of University High School, to return for a fifth season despite being drafted in the 17th round last year by the Oakland Athletics.
It’s been a long road for the left-hander. He pitched as a freshman on the 2009 Gonzaga team that reached the NCAA regionals, then redshirted the next season (2010) after suffering a shoulder subluxation during a game against Hawaii. He eventually worked his way into Gonzaga’s starting rotation in 2012.
“We have another chance to go to the tournament, and there was nothing like it,” Olson said. “It was awesome. The experience itself was like nothing I’d never done before. To get the chance to do it my last year in college has definitely made coming back worth it.”
The Cougars (19-18, 6-9 Pac-12) appeared poised to win their second Pac-12 series of the season at California last weekend, but they allowed two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday’s game and lost 2-1. They still haven’t won more than one game in a conference series since opening league play by beating Arizona State twice. No. 7 UCLA visits Bailey-Brayton Field this weekend.
The struggling Pirates (11-22-1, 6-15 NWC) end their Northwest Conference schedule with a three-game series at Whitman on Saturday and Sunday. Whitworth snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 15-0 win over Willamette last week, but has still won just two of its last 16 games.
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