By John Bauernfeind / Indianapolis Indians
In his first full season as a reliever, Indianapolis Indians closer Andy Oliver picked up an accolade which had eluded his four-year stay in the starting rotation – an All-Star selection.
Oliver, who enters the break ranked second in the International League in average against (.152), third in strikeouts-per-nine innings (11.35) and tied for eighth in saves (11), will join fellow All-Stars Matt Hague and Casey Sadler as the Tribe’s representatives at the 2014 Triple-A Midsummer Classic on Wednesday night (7:00) in Durham, NC.
“I didn’t have any expectations of making the team,” Oliver admitted. “(When they pulled him aside to break the news) I didn’t know what was going on, but when they told me, I was excited and thankful.”
Through the first 99 games of the 2014 campaign, Oliver has emerged as one of the league’s top closers by converting 11 of 12 save opportunities and holding opponents scoreless in 25 of his 33 total games. The southpaw also enters the first-half break having allowed more than one hit in just six of those 33 appearances, and never more than three total knocks.
And while Oliver’s transition from 2013 Opening Day starter to back-of-the-bullpen arm has featured his same knack for striking batters out – the 2013 IL strikeout leader has whiffed at least one batter in 26 of 33 contests – the role change has not included his previous inconsistencies with control; Last season, the southpaw issued 112 walks in 124 1/3 innings (1.1 per inning). This year, only 27 free passes in 46 frames (0.6 per inning).
Oliver’s catcher in Indianapolis for parts of both 2013 and 2014, Tony Sanchez, said the difference is “day and night” when comparing last year to the current All-Star campaign.
“You can just tell in his mannerisms on the mound,” Sanchez said. “He knows what he wants to throw when he wants to throw it and he has a lot of conviction in each of those pitches. Last year we didn’t see that. You can even tell in his shakes. If I put something down that he doesn’t want to throw he shakes me off and you can tell, ‘you better put down the right sign.’ That’s something you need out of a closer and he’s been lights out for us.”
Sanchez also pointed to Oliver’s combination of high velocity from the left side and a buckling breaking pitch as two key factors for Oliver’s easy transition into the closing role.
“He’s a fastball-slider guy,” Sanchez said. “Fastball to both sides of the plate. He can throw his slider for a strike or he can throw his slider down in the zone for the strikeout pitch. He’s a two-pitch guy. He’s got that mid-to-high 90s (MPH) fastball that, from the left side, is not easy to hit.”
Verifying Sanchez’s claim, Oliver has posted a 2.15 ERA (11 ER/46.0 IP), the lowest among team relievers with at least 30 innings pitched for the Tribe, and concluded the final stretch before the All-Star break with a mere four earned runs in his final 21 games and 24 2/3 innings pitched (1.46 ERA).
For Oliver, the 26-year-old said he hasn’t changed anything from previous seasons at the professional level, at least in terms of his mechanics or approach.
That leaves the only change for the 2014 season as his All-Star selection. The first of his five-year career.
“It’s exciting to be on the team…” Oliver said. “(But) I don’t think I’m doing anything different – I just go out there for that one inning and try to do my job.”