Athletics

Olson looks HR Derby ready after powerful finish to first half

Athletics

Matt Olson had just one home run in his previous 18 appearances coming into Sunday's game, but the Athletics' slugger doubled that mark in Oakland's final contest before the All-Star Break.

After taking Texas Rangers southpaw Kolby Allard deep to left-center in the fourth inning, Olson did it again in the top of the sixth, turning on a fastball and sending a laser into the bleachers at Globe Life Field.

The All-Star break has begun for the A's, but it won't be much of a break for Olson. The slugger will be one of eight participants in the Home Run Derby on Monday, and also will be the lone A's position player on the AL roster for Tuesday's All-Star Game.

Olson calls the opportunity of playing in his first All-Star Game "surreal," especially since it also will be his first chance to compete in the Home Run Derby.

Teammate and Sunday's winning pitcher Chris Bassitt, however, believes Olson might need some help after watching Rangers star Joey Gallo's batting practice during the weekend series in Texas.

"Oly is a pretty dang good BP hitter, but I'm just being honest, I saw Joey Gallo's BP too, and we gotta get lucky, I'll tell you that," Bassitt quipped to reporters after the A's 4-1 win on Sunday.

In the bracket for Monday's event, Olson is matched up against Baltimore Orioles power hitter Trey Mancini.

Gallo and Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani certainly offer the toughest challenge to a Home Run Derby crown for Olson, but the Oakland slugger's numbers this season are right up there with the best power hitters in the sport.

 
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Ohtani (33) Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (28) and Gallo (24) are the only players in the AL with more home runs at the All-Star break than Olson.

Olson will have A's assistant hitting coach Eric Martins pitching to him at Monday's Home Run Derby.

Looking back at the first half for Olson, there are clear numbers that demonstrate the technical improvements the slugger emphasized after a disappointing 2020 season.

From 2017-2020, Olson had a strikeout rate above 24 percent each and every year, including 31.4 percent during last season's shortened regular season.

So far through the first 92 games of 2021, Olson's strikeout rate is down to 16.7 percent.

Olson also has shown an impressive ability to hit left-handed pitching, as his two big flies off Allard on Sunday gave him 11 against southpaws this season, tied for the most in MLB with Ohtani.

A few days off after the All-Star festivities should provide a nice break for Olson, and the A's will need him to maintain that pace and perhaps even ratchet up his power numbers as Oakland chases the Houston Astros in the AL West.