Willie Harris's bottom of the ninth walk-off single wasn't one of the most exciting moment of the Nationals 3-2 victory last night. No, that came from the Nationals starting pitcher, Scott Olsen.
Olsen's previous two starts had been an indicator that perhaps the 26-year-old starting pitcher was bound for a strong comeback this season. But no-one expected what happened last night.
The Nationals left-hander who had been left off the opening day roster took the mound in the top of the eighth after having struck out eight Braves batters. Olsen was miles away from the pitcher he was in Florida, from being the hurler who had been left-behind in favor of a rookie who bombed his final three spring training starts. With that all behind him now, he took the mound without anyone (aside form Mark Zuckerman) willing to state out loud the importance of the next six batters, but with everyone knowing in the back of their mind he had a strong chance to become the first Washington National to throw a no hitter.
After striking out Matt Diaz to start the eighth, he quickly gave up a single to Braves catcher David Ross, effectively breaking up the no-no. Through 7.1 innings, Olsen had allowed only two base runners, one on an error, and only one hit coming in the top of the eighth.
For Olsen it was the second straight game he had pitched at least six innings with no more than six hits, and would eventually bring to an end a 20 inning shutout streak. While the previous two starts were strong showings for Olsen, this one meant something more. Back from the brink of irrelevance, Olsen was not only finally respected, but now feared on the mound.
In 98 pitches the lefty had a bit more velocity than he had in his previous starts. Coming off of surgery this offseason, Olsen had only been throwing in the high 80's with his fastball, but last night his heater reached 92.2 MPH as its max speed and rested at about 90 MPH. This is a strong sign that his arm is getting stronger after surgery and he could in fact continue to improve.
Olsen sliced through Braves hitters, striking out eight with a devastating slider and strong changeup. In total he through the change 34 times for 23 strikes and four swinging strikes, while tossing the nickel-curve 19 times for 14 strikes and four swinging strikes. As we have said here in the past, his success lives and dies on his slider, as evidenced by its presence in his strong three outings in a row.
Unfortunately the wheels fell off after allowing the hit to Ross. Melky Cabrera reached on a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman, and McLouth singled to load the bases. That stretch earned a yank from Jim Riggleman. Olsen would walk off the mound with a standing, despite the grim situation he left the game in. Clippard would come in relief and surrender only one hit. Unfortunately that hit would drive in two runs, taking away a decision from Olsen after he allowed only two earned runs on two hits and struck out eight in 7.1 innings of work.
While Clippard picked up the blown save, he would also pick up the win after Willie Harris drove in Adam Kennedy to win the game in the bottom of the ninth.