Olson produces another no-no bid, strong start vs. White Sox

September 9th, 2023

DETROIT -- If David Stearns ends up back in a baseball front office this offseason, he probably won’t be asked about trading a young Brewers pitching prospect named for rental reliever Daniel Norris at the Trade Deadline two years ago. It was a smaller swap that got overlooked amid the many other deals around baseball that day. But it’s a big deal to the Tigers, who continue to reap the benefits.

The White Sox, by contrast, must rue the day that trade came about. Even as they celebrated a late-inning surge that sent the Tigers to a 6-0 loss Friday night at Comerica Park, they continue to struggle to figure out Olson, who held them hitless for 6 1/3 innings before giving up a Luis Robert Jr. double and and a Yoán Moncada homer in the seventh.

It marked the second time in three months that Olson took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against the White Sox, having also done so in his Major League debut in Chicago on June 2. Add in seven scoreless innings in the Windy City six days ago, and Olson has held the White Sox to four runs on eight hits over 18 2/3 innings in three meetings.

"That’s a pretty good pitcher over there,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “We are going to have some battles with that guy for a long, long time. It’s the third time we faced him and he continues to pitch his butt off."

As the Tigers prepare to introduce No. 19 prospect Sawyer Gipson-Long to the big leagues with a Sunday start against the White Sox, they can reasonably hope he follows a similar path to Olson from relatively unknown trade acquisition to a potential piece for the long term.

Like Olson, Gipson-Long came over in a small Trade Deadline deal, sent over from Minnesota last summer for rental reliever Michael Fulmer. Gipson-Long was an unranked prospect, a former sixth-round Draft pick with an ability to mix, match and tinker to get results.

While adding a high-spin slider helped propel Olson on a path to Detroit, Gipson-Long has benefitted from a midseason adjustment to add a cutter to his mix of fastball, slider and changeup.

“This is a great organizational win,” manager A.J. Hinch said in announcing Gipson-Long’s upcoming start, “for a guy who came into the organization with, we think, some untapped potential. We make him better. He buys in. He’s changed a little bit of everything from his attack plans to some of his pitch shapes.

“... To see him go out and really earn his way here, it’s exactly the story that we love to share.”

Olson has been that kind of story all summer, none bigger than when he faces the White Sox. He faced the challenge of back-to-back starts against the same opponent and struggled with it against the Twins last month. This time, aside from a few more changeups, he didn’t change much at all, waiting to see if the White Sox made adjustments.

“It worked in my last start,” he said, “so I kind of tried to replicate that going into this one. To be able to get through the second outing this time with a good outing is definitely a positive.”

Olson induced a few more swinging strikes this time around, helping boost his strikeout total to five compared to one last start. But the White Sox also fouled off 21 of his pitches Friday, extending at-bats and elevating his pitch count to the point that going the distance was never a consideration.

Still, despite some solid contact right at Tigers defenders, a second-inning walk to Eloy Jiménez and a fourth-inning pitch that hit Robert comprised all the damage off Olson through six innings. Not until Olson hung a 2-2 slider to Robert could the White Sox find a hit, ripping a double with one out in the seventh.

Suddenly, Olson transitioned from extending a no-hitter to preserving a scoreless duel. Jiménez hit a fly ball to center for the second out, and Olson put Moncada in an 0-2 hole. But Moncada, who had given Olson two tough at-bats last weekend in Chicago, fouled off back-to-back fastballs before declining to chase a slider in the dirt. Olson went back to the fastball in the same location as the previous two, and Moncada pounced.

“He was pitching very well, right up to that point,” Moncada said. “I was looking for a fastball, was able to get one and hit it well.”