Encouraging signs for Oswalt against Tigers
ARLINGTON -- There will be much better nights than this one for Roy Oswalt as a member of the Texas Rangers. In fact, he's already had one.
Oswalt made the second start after his mini-retirement on Wednesday night. It was not a disaster. It was not even a defeat. It was just not up to the standards that he has established over a long and notable career, and it was probably not quite up to the expectations that led the Rangers to pay him a $4 million base salary with another $1 million in incentives for what will be slightly more than a half-season of work.
Oswalt gave up five earned runs over six innings against the Tigers, and he surrendered a career-high 13 hits. But this performance was better than those numbers indicate.
The Rangers won, 13-9, so there wasn't much of a crisis atmosphere at Rangers Ballpark, and several of the hits off Oswalt were seeing-eye grounders. Ten hits were singles. It's not as though Oswalt was being mercilessly pummeled -- and he was the winning pitcher.
Plus, his stuff was not particularly diminished from where it was at the peak of his considerable career. He was throwing the fastball up to 94 mph, and maintaining that velocity on another truly hot Texas evening. He was still throwing 93 in the sixth after more than 100 pitches. His tantalizing curveball came in at 68.
There were encouraging signs to be taken out of this start, even if there wasn't much elation. Oswalt walked two and struck out six. There was no question that he occasionally made mistakes in the strike zone, but they weren't the three-run-homer kind of mistakes.
Oswalt analyzed himself as being in the strike zone too often.
"I think sometimes I get into the habit of throwing too many strikes," Oswalt said. "I got two strikes on a lot of guys, and instead of trying to get them out outside of the zone, I was trying to get them out in the zone. I was really trying to keep my pitch count down so I could get deeper into the game. They hit a lot of balls in the infield that could have been right at somebody. Good team win, though. The guys gave me some runs to work with and kept adding on."
Oswalt's typically precise command was intact, which is another immensely encouraging sign.
"Command's great," he said. "I'm throwing the ball where I want to. A few balls leaked on me just a little bit, but overall, with all four pitches, they all felt good coming out of my hand. I can throw a strike when I want to. Second start, I feel like I'm pretty close to where I need to be."
A number of teams sought Oswalt's services for this season. He could have chosen a club with a pitcher-friendly park and protected his statistics, but he chose the Rangers because they give him the chance to pitch for a team that could win something major. He might sacrifice some personal stats pitching in Arlington, but that's not a issue for him.
"I had played on some teams before that didn't score a whole lot," he said with a smile. "Coming over here, I knew the lineup they had, one through nine, anybody can beat you with the long ball. Most everybody hits to all fields.
"The most important thing on my mind with my numbers is wins. The rest of it doesn't really matter much to me as long as we win at the end of the day."
Oswalt's first start for Texas had a clear verdict. Against Colorado, he gave up just one run in 6 1/3 innings and earned the victory.
What argues in favor of Oswalt's success is the whole of his career. He has occasionally been overshadowed by high-profile pitchers, but on his merits he was one of the National League's absolute best in the last decade. In six seasons he finished in the top six in Cy Young Award voting. He twice won 20 games for Houston and won three postseason games in 2005, when the Astros reached the World Series.
And he was still on top of his game when he was traded to Philadelphia in 2010. He went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA and a WHIP of 0.895 for the Phillies that season.
The Rangers are in a position for which Roy Oswalt being the real Roy Oswalt is more of a requirement than an elective, as 60 percent of their Opening Day rotation is on the disabled list.
So Oswalt's performance on Wednesday night wasn't statistically pretty, but it fulfilled the basic requirements for his team.
"He had to battle," manager Ron Washington said. "He faced a pretty good team out there that can swing the bat. The one thing he did was throw strikes. He didn't back down; he kept throwing the ball in the strike zone, and they just put some hits on him. In my opinion it was a good outing because he kept the lead. When he left the game, he still had [a six-run] lead."
Oswalt is a fierce competitor, with a thorough knowledge of his craft, and he still has plenty of ability. He's going to have outings that are much more impressive than Wednesday's, but as he begins his tenure with the Rangers, it is hard to argue with a 2-0 record.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.