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Olson’s force awakens with first-inning laser

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Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson (28) flies out in the seventh inning as the Baltimore Orioles face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, May 4, 2018.

It seemed like a long time ago when Matt Olson last hit a ball to a galaxy far, far away.

Olson finished 2017 tied for fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year race despite playing just 59 games, largely thanks to his 24 homers — a pace that would put him at 66 over 162 games. But he is 24 and entered 2018 having accrued just 210 big league at-bats — one-third the amount expected in a single full season — so manager Bob Melvin and the Athletics had tempered expectations for their slugging first baseman.

Still, Olson entered the A’s third home stand being out-homered by 19 first baseman, among them Ryon Healy, whom Oakland dealt to Seattle in an offseason move that solidified Olson as the A’s everyday first baseman.

Long story short, the A’s may not have needed it but the 429-foot bomb he launched in the first inning Friday night is a weight off Olson’s shoulders.

This story will be updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Before Friday’s game, Melvin said:

“He’ll hit his share of homers. … It’s not like his power has gone away, he’ll get it going.”

After the 6-4 win, Olson said:

“I’ve kinda been grinding out my at-bats a little bit, I haven’t felt completely right at the plate. … Hopefully this is the start of something where I can get rolling.”

That ever-existent power showed its face in the first inning, following a three-run dinger (8) by Khris Davis, when Baltimore starter Andrew Cashner tried to get a 3-2 changeup past the A’s five-hole hitter at the knees, but left it center-cut. Olson deposited the mistake in the bleachers beyond the 362-marker in right-center.

The skipper said:

“Typically, power hitters will hit them in bunches and once he gets going we’ll see quite a few out of him.”

Prior to the solo homer, No. 4 on the year, Olson had been ice-cold. His last jack came on April 16, and he hadn’t driven in a run since April 27. In fact, since April 21 — two full weeks — he was slashing .172/.314/.241 with just two RBIs.

Part of the problem had been the succession of lefties the A’s had faced — eight of those 11 games featured southpaw starters sent out by the opposition. That is something that, Melvin said, has forced Olson to make adjustments, something the dreaded sophomore slump demands as well:

“He’s working on hitting the ball the other way, too, at times, trying to make himself a better hitter overall.”

Not only did the power show up on this Oakland’s third Green Friday, the opposite-field approach was evident. In two of his next three at-bats Olson sent screaming drives the other way. The first, a 1-1 changeup at the knees lifted over the head of left fielder Trey Mancini. It missed being a second homer by less than a foot, instead banging off the top of the Lucas Oil signage on the padded wall 10 feet to the left of the 367-foot marker for a double with two down in the fifth.

In his fourth and final trip to the plate, Olson hammered another the other way. This one was flagged down, though it took Mancini colliding with the State Farm sign below the AL out-of-town scoreboard just to the left of the 362-foot marker to do so, robbing Olson of a lead-off double in the seventh.

Olson said after the game that he had made some adjustments working in the cage prior to the game. Nothing major, he said, just small tweaks to his posture and timing. Those tweaks weren’t visible to the naked eye, but the production was. He said he got the trajectory he is looking for.

Melvin lauded his slugger for the adjustments, and the results they have produced:

“Not only is he a power hitter, he’s just a good hitter.”

The only at-bat that Olson will want back in an otherwise vociferous outburst was a third-inning groundout to third baseman Danny Valencia, playing in the shortstop position in Baltimore’s shift. It wasn’t necessarily the poor contact that frustrated Olson to the point of standing beyond the first base bag for a moment staring into the distance but the situation. Olson had earned a hitter’s count, 2-0, and checked his swing on a fastball down and in, rolling a timid grounder up the middle.

Those are the counts when Olson needs to deliver his damage. Still, this powerful performance is exactly what Olson needed to get that monkey off his back ant let his swing take over. He said:

“I felt a lot better. I was able to square up three balls, and I don’t know if I’ve done that in a game yet this year.”


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.

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