MIAMI (AP) -Midway through the best game of his career, Scott Olsen was pitching as if double-parked. He threw a strike, caught the return toss from his catcher, took one step back to reposition himself on the rubber and looked in for another signal.
The quick pace was understandable, because Olsen can't distance himself from last year fast enough.
An arrest, suspension and last-place ranking among NL starters made 2007 mostly miserable for Olsen, but he has revived his career this season to become an ace for the first-place Florida Marlins.
Olsen takes a 4-1 record and 2.22 ERA into Sunday's start at Washington. Even the confident left-hander is surprised by his success.
``I don't think I would have thought things would have gone this well, that's for sure,'' he says.
The 24-year-old finished one strike shy of his first complete game Tuesday, allowing only two hits in 8 2-3 innings to beat Milwaukee 3-0. That sort of performance is an especially big deal for the Marlins, whose starters had the highest ERA in the major leagues last year. They've gone without a complete game since September 2006.
The rotation remains shaky, but Olsen has helped the Marlins stay atop the NL East despite the smallest payroll in the majors. They've spent more than three weeks in first place, and they're 6-1 when Olsen pitches.
``You see a certain swagger in him when he takes the mound,'' teammate Luis Gonzalez says. ``I think he's turning the corner and becoming a professional pitcher. This guy is in his third year in the major leagues. For a left-hander, if you start to develop like that early, you're going to be around for a long time.''
Olsen's string of strong starts has generated talk about his newfound changeup and quicker tempo on the mound, while the tribulations that plagued him in 2007 become old news.
A brief recap: Olsen was arrested last season on a drunken-driving charge, drew a fine for making an obscene gesture toward fans in Milwaukee, and served a two-game suspension following a confrontation with a teammate. His pitching suffered, and he finished 10-15 with an ERA of 5.81, highest in the NL among starters with at least 162 innings.
``A very long year,'' Olsen says. ``I'm just trying to learn from everything. I've gotten my fair share of talks-to by my grandparents and my mom and by other people's parents.''
Also providing guidance have been new pitching coach Mark Wiley and veteran left-hander Mark Hendrickson, signed as a free agent in January. All the advice apparently helped, because Olsen has been a model citizen since the start of spring training, winning praise from teammates for his demeanor and work ethic.
Olsen's $405,000 contract makes him a bargain for the thrifty Marlins, but he should cash in after this season, when he becomes eligible for arbitration.
``I think Scott has kind of matured from what he went through last year,'' Hendrickson says.
Olsen showed plenty of potential as a rookie in 2006, when he went 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA. But last year his ERA in his final 12 starts was 7.34, signaling a change was needed.
So this season he added a changeup to complement his slider and 93-mph fastball, using the offspeed pitch to get groundballs early in the count.
Olsen averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings as a rookie. This year he's down to 4.3, but his pitch count is also down, and he's fooling hitters rather than trying to overpower them.
``I thought I saw the ball well. I just couldn't get hits,'' Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks said after going 0-for-3 against Olsen on Tuesday. ``That was pretty much everybody. You shake your head coming to the dugout, 'Why didn't I hit that?'''
In addition to expanding his repertoire, Olsen no longer dallies between deliveries, rarely straying more than a couple of steps from the rubber.
``It keeps me more focused,'' he says. ``The less time I take is better for me. If you walk around the mound and you kick dirt and you grab the resin bag and you're taking 15 to 18 seconds between every pitch, you're obviously going to be thinking. Overthinking is somewhat of a problem I don't want to get into.''
Instead, when a hitter steps out of the batter's box to fidget, Olsen waits motionless on the rubber and glares over his glove. He's pitching well this season, and he can't wait to throw another strike.

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