Oliveros offers a bit of hope in one-sided loss

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2011 - 6:44 AM

The righthander has the talent to make the Delmon Young trade worthwhile.

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Delmon Young is off to a strong start with the Tigers, and already it's fair to wonder if the Twins mistakenly sold low when they traded him Aug. 15.

Meanwhile, J.J. Hardy is in town with the Orioles, reminding Twins fans of another trade gone bad.

No pressure, Lester Oliveros, but the Twins really need you to be good. Not as good as Young -- the trade was far too complicated for that -- but good enough to be a piece of the Twins' bullpen puzzle for 2012 and beyond.

Oliveros, 23, is one of two pitchers Detroit sent the Twins for Young. The other is 6-7 lefthander Cole Nelson, an Edina native who's viewed as a much bigger project for Class A Fort Myers.

Oliveros made two appearances for Class AAA Rochester before the Twins promoted him to the big leagues. The Venezuela native was one of the lone bright spots for the Twins on Tuesday night in an 8-1 loss to the Orioles.

After Baltimore grabbed a 7-0 lead against Brian Duensing, Oliveros slowed the bleeding. He got a quick double-play ball and a strikeout with a 96-miles-per-hour fastball. The righthander's fastball hit 98 mph the next inning, as the Orioles went down 1-2-3.

"It was pretty hot, and I was pretty excited," Oliveros said, explaining the jump in his velocity. "Maybe adrenaline."

Stretched into a third inning because the Twins don't have a long reliever, Oliveros let the first three batters reach in the fifth before Ron Gardenhire pulled him.

But it was still a strong Twins debut for Oliveros, confirming their positive reports. Former Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp worked with the righthander in spring training and briefly in July when Oliveros posted a 5.63 ERA in nine appearances for the Tigers.

"He throws the ball hard and doesn't look like he's throwing hard," said Knapp, a former minor-league pitching coordinator for the Twins. "He has other good pitches, too, a change-up and a slider. He's a wonderful kid with great makeup. He has a very calm presence on the mound."

Oliveros needs work on his command, and he'll probably never blossom into a closer or even a top set-up man. But the Twins have a lot of holes in their bullpen, and maybe he'll fill one of them.

Look, they can't turn back time. They'll never overcome their initial trade for Young, the one that sent Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa Bay in 2007. And in hindsight, they probably should have taken the best offer they could get for Young after he seemed to blossomed last year.

But if Oliveros succeeds, they can at least say they got something for Young instead of nothing. Gardenhire confirmed this week that the Twins probably were going to non-tender Young at season's end rather than give him a raise beyond his $5.4 million salary.

Hardy was a probable non-tender, too, and the Orioles got him for two minor-league relievers -- Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson -- who don't look like they'll amount to much.

After notching three more hits Tuesday, Hardy is batting .273 with 24 homers and 60 RBI. Will the latest Young deal haunt the Twins, too? In his first eight games for Detroit, he's batting .314 (11-for-35) with two homers and six RBI.

The Twins needed to show that they could at least pluck away one contributor in a deal like this, as they did when they got Bartlett for Brian Buchanan in 2002, or Alexi Casilla for J.C. Romero in 2005.

Oliveros might be that guy. Maybe. For one night, he at least offered some hope.

Joe Christensen jchristensen@startribune.com

  • BALTIMORE 8, TWINS 1 Up next: 7:10 p.m. Wednesday vs. Baltimore • Target Field • TV: FSN (1500ESPN)

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