Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hurlers hail Oliver's twist

Jays pitchers revel in veteran lefty's return to bullpen

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Enter the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training clubhouse, turn right and you'll find Darren Oliver. It's a good place to start if you want to learn about the team or baseball itself.

At age 42, the relief pitcher is gearing up for his 20th major-league season.

"He's been around for so long. He's seen it all, he's done it all," said Toronto closer Casey Janssen. "He's been an unbelievable sounding board for questions. I mean nobody has it figured out. He's still learning every day as well but he's been through a heck of a lot more than we have."

"Whether it's on the field or off the field, he's been there, done that," added reliever Sergio Santos.

No wonder when Oliver agreed in mid-January to come back for a second season with Toronto, the 29-year-old Santos and 31-year-old Janssen started texting each other.

"We were just so excited, knowing that we have such a big piece in our bullpen coming back," said Santos.

Oliver is entering his second year with the Blue Jays after previous stints with Texas (three times), St. Louis, Boston, Colorado, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels.

In 2012, the veteran left-hander went 3-4 with a 2.06 earned-run average, 52 strikeouts and 14 walks over 56.2 innings while setting up Janssen, who took over the closer's role after Santos was injured early on.

After the Jays exercised a US$3-million option for 2013, Oliver took his time mulling over his future. His agent reportedly asked for a renegotiated contract although Oliver distanced himself from that stance.

Oliver has no regrets about coming back, although he admits spring training gets old after 20 years. The season itself can also be a grind mentally.

But asked if it still beats working for a living, he doesn't miss a beat.

"Absolutely ... . There could be a lot of other worse things I could be doing for a living so I'm definitely not complaining," he said.

One factor in his decision to return was Toronto's remake of its roster. "Winning. It's always about winning," said Oliver. "No question about that."

Oliver, the son of former major league infielder Bob Oliver, says he expects his role with the Jays to remain the same. "Setting up my boy, Casey."

Oliver says good health, good teams and good coaches have helped keep him in the game so long. He's also paid attention, studying opposition batters.

"There's really no magic explanation why I've stayed around so long," he said.

But Oliver does say he knows his body and understands his mechanics.

"He repeats his delivery very well," Janssen said. "He has a good feel for not only his game but also the hitters he's facing. And he knows his strengths and pitches to his strengths."

"It's just a natural ability to throw the baseball where he wants to," added 28-year-old Toronto starter Brandon Morrow. "That's what's got him this far."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2013 C6

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