CHICAGO -- Lee Olson looked like he was fighting back tears as he sat in the first-base stands of Guaranteed Rate Field Friday night, watching his son Reese make his Major League debut.
“I was OK until I got to the ballpark and saw it,” he told Bally Sports Detroit, “and it's been hard to hold back the tears since I got here. There's been a few people that have made fun of me. …
“It was very hard for me to even think of him as having the ability to be here when he first started being recognized [growing up]. … It’s been very surreal.”
The ending, too, was surreal -- a 3-0 loss to the White Sox, but a big impression for Reese Olson.
As Olson’s debut unfolded, one hitless inning after another, it was difficult not to get caught up in the emotion. Here he was, once a little-known prospect acquired by then-GM Al Avila in a Trade Deadline deal for Daniel Norris, a No. 11 prospect in the system this year according to MLB Pipeline, a struggling starter at Triple-A Toledo until a few weeks ago, holding down a White Sox lineup littered with formidable hitters.
“He was calm. He was in control. He was nasty,” manager A.J. Hinch said.
Olson held Chicago hitless Friday for as many innings as his longest start of any kind in Toledo this year. He threw 96-97 mph fastballs that hitters struggled to center, flipped high-spin sliders that sent them flailing the first time through the order, then mixed in late-dropping changeups that buckled them the next time around.
“A little part of the strategy,” catcher Eric Haase said, “but it comes down to him executing. He was in the zone all day, going in, out, up, down. That was really all you could ask for from him.”
Olson threw the kind of pitches that made his 6.38 ERA in Toledo -- including a 9.67 ERA over his first seven starts -- seem illogical, at least until he explained the difference.
“I think my struggles in Triple-A for the first month helped me a lot tonight,” Olson said. “It calmed me down, not getting sped up. I think that was one of the biggest lessons I learned in Triple-A. I’m happy that I struggled for that month for that experience so that I know how to react out there.”
Two sixth-inning singles later, Olson was done. Romy Gonzalez, who broke up Michael Lorenzen’s perfect-game bid in the sixth inning on Saturday at Comerica Park, capitalized on one of Olson’s few mistakes, a 2-2 slider left over the plate, and grounded it through the left side. Olson regrouped and made Tim Anderson look silly on a changeup in the dirt for an 0-2 count but left a sinker in the middle that Anderson lined into left-center.
One pitch after that, Olson was on the hook for a tough-luck loss and an emotional whiplash. Still, for Olson, parents Lee and Kelly, his older brother and more than two dozen friends and extended family, it was a night to remember fondly.
“Definitely a day I’ll never forget,” Olson said. “It’s great to have my family and a bunch of friends here to experience it with me. As far as my outing, I think I did pretty well, just maybe got a little tired in the sixth inning, didn’t execute two two-strike pitches. Other than that, everything was working for me.”
No Tiger tossed as many no-hit innings in his debut for that long since Bill Slayback held the Yankees hitless for seven innings on June 26, 1972.
“I don't know if we completely figured it out,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “He had pretty good stuff. He was sinking it. His slider was a good slider, kind of an electric pitch for him. It's got really tight spin, it's late.”
Olson’s fastball averaged 95.8 mph. His slider averaged 2946 rpm and topped out at 3093, proving especially troublesome for an aggressive White Sox lineup that swung and missed at six sliders and six changeups while taking six more sliders for called strikes.
For Tigers fans, it was the latest example of Detroit’s pitching depth helping again through a rash of injuries. The Tigers' rotation should get more familiar names back soon: Tarik Skubal begins a Minor League rehab assignment Sunday, and Matt Manning shouldn’t be far off from doing the same. But for now, Olson has his shot.