October 25, 2014

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Baseball: Vermilion’s Oliver bidding to get back to big leagues

Vermilion man, Andy Oliver during his days with the Detroit Tigers in 2010

Vermilion man, Andy Oliver during his days with the Detroit Tigers in 2010

TOLEDO — It’s been a strange couple of years for Vermilion graduate Andy Oliver, but odd things seem to happen to the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians left-hander.
After his high school baseball career was over, Oliver was drafted in the 17th round by the Minnesota Twins. Like most high school draftees, Oliver sought legal advice regarding his contract negotiations with Minnesota.
When he could not come to terms with the Twins, Oliver accepted a scholarship to pitch at Oklahoma State University, where he had stellar freshman and sophomore seasons, posting a combined 13-3 record.
However, on the eve of the 2008 NCAA playoffs, the NCAA ruled he was ineligible due to his accepting legal advice when negotiating with Minnesota. Oliver sued for reinstatement, which a judge granted in February of 2009.
After his junior year, Oliver was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the second round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft, the 58th overall player selected. He signed with the Tigers and, by the end of the 2010 season, was called up to the majors and made his debut.
He made five starts for Detroit in 2010 and two more in 2011. His fastball was clocked in the high 90s and his secondary pitches, a curveball and changeup, were developing ahead of schedule.
It didn’t last. Oliver somehow lost command of his fastball. He piled up strikeouts, but plenty of walks along with them. For the Tigers’ AAA affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, Oliver pitched 147 innings in 2011. He struck out 143 batters, but also walked 80.
With the Mud Hens in 2012, Oliver pitched 118 innings, striking out 112 while walking 88. He was 8-12 with a 4.71 earned run average in 2011 and 5-9 with a 4.88 ERA last season.
On Dec. 5, 2012, the Tigers traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ramon Cabrera, and Oliver left spring training as a member of the Indianapolis Indians.
This season he started 20 games before being moved to the bullpen. He has a 5-4 record with a 4.16 ERA. His strikeout totals are good … 115 in 106 innings, but he’s still struggling with his control, having walked 99.
“One of the biggest things I need to do is to be consistent,” Oliver said. “My fastball command right now … I leave some arm-side up and am behind the ball instead of staying on top of it. That’s my biggest issue, there are no problems with anything else.
“My secondary pitches are all good but sometimes I tend to not stay on top of the ball and am leaving some things up.
“It’s something I’ve been trying to work on. … It’s mechanical. I know the more consistent I can be in staying on top of the ball I can start driving it in on a righty. The more I can repeat that, obviously, the more consistent I will be. I’m doing the work and figuring it out.”
It has been an adjustment for Oliver, moving to a new organization and leaving the one that drafted him behind. The Indians currently lead the International League West Division with a 70-54 record, 11 games ahead of both the Cleveland Indians’ AAA affiliate, Columbus, and the Louisville Bats, who both sport 60-64 records.
“It was a little difficult because I didn’t really know anyone over here,” Oliver said. “I knew a couple of players but as far as staff and personnel I have to get to know them. They also have to get to know me and my personality. But it’s been fine. I’m pretty happy. I feel like this is a good organization here and, obviously, in Pittsburgh.
“This is a good group of guys from what little time I’ve spent with them and we’re doing good things as a team.
“It’s a different organization and it takes awhile to figure out exactly what’s going on, especially when you leave an organization you’ve spent quite a few years with and know where you’re at. For me, in my experience, when there is a change you just have to feel it out, see how it goes and whatever happens, happens.”
Oliver is also excited about what is going on with the big club in Pittsburgh. After Monday’s action the Pirates, at 70-47, led the NL Central by three games and owned the second-best record in the major leagues.
“If you’re in the organization you obviously pay attention to what’s going on with the big club,” he said. “They’re doing good things up there and have a good ballclub.”
One thing he does not know is what the Pirates have in mind for him in the future. When asked if he had talked with anyone from the organization about future plans, or what those plans were, Oliver did not mince words.
“I don’t know … have no idea.”
When asked if that was difficult, he was direct.
“Yeah.”
Regardless of what the future has in store for Oliver, he’s proud of being able to represent Vermilion.
“It’s kind of cool,” he said. “Everybody is from somewhere and we all have gone through it. Here it doesn’t matter what city you’re playing in, they’re all kind of close by. But it’s cool and there are a lot of people from Vermilion I still talk to.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.