August 27, 2012

Sea Dogs pitcher a lesson in perseverance

Michael Olmsted is making his presence known and Boston will be forced to put him on its 40-man roster or risk losing him.

By Kevin Thomas
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — He is a 6-foot-7, 280-pound pitcher.

click image to enlarge

Michael Olmsted’s professional baseball career was going nowhere just a year and a half ago, but now he’s one of the top relievers in the Red Sox system.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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And the Boston Red Sox will not be able to hide him much longer.

Michael Olmsted is making his presence known and Boston will be forced to put him on its 40-man roster or risk losing him.

Olmsted, 25, pitched Sunday for the Portland Sea Dogs and, even though it wasn't one of his best outings -- two unearned runs on two walks, a bloop single and two errors -- his ERA remains 0.00.

In 11 games and 17 innings, he has allowed nine hits and six walks while striking out 27.

Before coming to Portland on July 24, Olmsted dominated in advanced Class A Salem (16 saves, 2.29 ERA, .175 opponents' batting average, 61 strikeouts, eight walks in 39 1/3 innings).

It is a nice time for a breakout year, because Olmsted will be a minor-league free agent after the season -- unless the Red Sox place him on their 40-man roster.

Somebody is going to want a reliever who throws strikes with a 97 mph fastball and tight slider.

"Two power pitches," Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said. "When he's right, he works ahead in the count.

"This kid has a chance to pitch in the big leagues. It's a different route, where he's come from, but this is definitely a major-league quality arm."

Olmsted was plucked from baseball's scrap heap -- an independent league tryout -- but is becoming the pitcher the New York Mets envisioned when they drafted him in the ninth round in 2007.

After his first full season with the Mets' organization in 2008, Olmsted underwent Tommy John surgery. During his rehab in 2009, the Mets released him, and he almost called it quits.

"They gave me $123,000 and let me go," Olmsted said.

He took his severance pay and headed back to his home state of California, working out with respected University of Southern California pitching coach Tom House. Olmsted eventually signed with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan, pitching in both minor league and major league games.

But Olmsted missed the U.S., a struggle made worse when his mother, Susan, died of cancer that year. He came home for the funeral, then returned to Japan a week later, lonely and frustrated.

"It was a trying year over there," Olmsted said. "I thought about hanging it up.

"I love this game, but my mind just wasn't right. If your mind isn't right, this game becomes a lot tougher."

When Olmsted came back to the U.S., he continued to work out and gave baseball another try. He went to an independent league tryout in May of 2011.

This is the part of the story where Olmsted's fastball merits mention.

Despite his size, Olmsted called himself a finesse pitcher in high school, with a fastball in the 80s.

"Finally, one day in summer ball after my senior year, the coaches said to go up there and throw as hard as you could. I didn't know how," Olmsted said.

Olmsted learned to throw hard, and his fastball ball was up to 94 mph at Cypress Junior College. After the Tommy John surgery strengthened his arm, the radar-gun readings were at 97.

That fastball was on display at the tryout. Independent-league teams were lining up to sign Olmsted.

But Allard Baird, the Red Sox vice president of player personnel, also showed up. Olmsted signed with Boston.

After a 2011 season in low Class A Greenville (3.43 ERA), Olmsted said he "worked my butt off" in the offseason. He also shelved his change-up, concentrating on his power pitches.

It worked.

"This year is the first time I felt like I could throw hard effectively," Olmsted. "It's been a good year so far."

Now it is decision time for the Red Sox.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

Twitter: ClearTheBases


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