On Sunday, Roy Oswalt made his first start since hitting the DL after lasting only two innings in his most previous start on June 23 against the St. Louis Cardinals, a start in which he gave up four runs in that time and was given the loss.
Having had problems in his back all season due to a couple of bulging discs and already hitting the DL because of them, Oswalt made two rehab starts in the last week or so, having commented afterwards that his back "felt great" and that he "felt no pain." Somewhat surprising, considering Oswalt had previously stated that he believed his injury could have been "career-threatening."
Nonetheless, as a Phillies fan, I'm glad to have Oswalt back in the Phillies rotation, reuniting the Four Aces and making the rotation look as deadly on paper as it did at the beginning of the season.
Unfortunately, his stats this season haven't lived up to his expected hype—before today's start, Oswalt was 4-6 with a 3.79 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP, and just 42 strikeouts to 18 walks in 71.1 innings in 13 starts.
Phillies fans were hoping that today, Oswalt would come back and be his normal, second-half-of-2010-self and pitch lights out against the reigning World Champion San Francisco Giants. And for the first three innings, Oswalt looked great: While he allowed five hits in that time frame, he didn't allow any runs and only walked one. He even scored a run from a Chase Utley single, and after those three innings, the Phillies led 1-0.
At that point it looked like the Phillies were just getting started, and it seemed like they would win the game and sweep the Giants. Considering it was hit first start since coming off the DL, Oswalt was looking fantastic and the Phillies' offense was looking like it was getting to Giants ace Tim Lincecum, something they normally don't do.
Yet the next three innings of the game didn't go...shall we say, as well as Oswalt would have liked. He allowed three runs—one run in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings—and seven more hits, amounting to 12 on the day, only the fourth time in his career that he's allowed 12 or more hits in a game.
But what's worse is that 11 of those 12 hits were measly little singles. He was lifted after six innings, his ERA having risen to 3.84 and WHIP rising to 1.41, and while he struck out four and walked only one more batter, he took the loss and his record went to 4-7 on the season.
Lincecum, meanwhile, gave up a lead-off walk to Jimmy Rollins from the windup, and after that, he pitched from the stretch for the rest of the game.
And boy, did it make the difference: Lincecum allowed just one run on seven hits over 7.2 innings, striking out five and walking only one batter, the lone man being Rollins. Javier Lopez pitched the last third of the eighth inning and Brian Wilson closed out the ninth, giving Lincecum the win and Wilson his league-leading 34th save.
Sure, the Phillies still won the road series and took three of four games from the Giants, but they failed to sweep them and their nine-game winning streak—which began the day before Hunter Pence was acquired from the Houston Astros—came to an unfortunate end, as did Pence's eight-game hitting streak, which had begun in his first game in a Phillies uniform.
And while I predicted in my last article that the Phillies would take three of four and lose today's game due to Oswalt coming off the DL and needing today's start to settle back into the rotation before being able to find himself again at the major league level, it was one of the few times where I was disappointed I was right.
Now I'm left wondering—as I would think many other Phillies fans are—whether Oswalt will be able to fully come back from his injury and dominate like he did during his Phillies tenure last season.
Before we continue with that, let's revisit Oswalt's time as a Phillie during the final third of last season: aside from a rocky first start against the Washington Nationals, Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP in 12 starts. Phillies fans were all cheering on GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. for getting it done once again at the trade deadline, having acquired an ace starting pitcher at each of the last two trade deadlines. While he didn't have the same charisma as departed fan favorite Cliff Lee, he was more effective than Lee had been as a Phillie in 2009.
Back to Oswalt this season. This all started when Oswalt was apparently informed before his April 26 road start against the Arizona Diamondbacks that a tornado had struck in his hometown of Weir, Mississippi and that there was potential damage to his family's home and his parents' home, just one mile away from his current residence.
He obviously was shaken in his start—he allowed five runs on seven hits in five innings, taking the loss and leaving the team to check on his family following his removal from the game.
It only went downhill from there. After coming off the DL due to a back strain he suffered from running to first base after laying down a bunt, he was sent back to it during his time away from the team, possibly due to his work helping to pick up the rubble in his hometown.
He came back from his second DL stint in as many months on May 17, going five innings and allowing only one run, but he wasn't given a decision in the Phillies' 2-1 loss to the Cardinals, the team he would ironically face later in the season before hitting the DL once again.
He ended up only earning one win before hitting the DL on June 23 in a game against the Chicago Cubs on June 12.
With all his back troubles this season, from spasms to a sprain to bulging discs, what is there to expect of Oswalt for the rest of the season? He's currently 33 years old (he'll turn 34 on the 29th of the month), and it seems like he's wearing down more and more per start he makes on the mound.
Aside from the win on June 23, Oswalt hasn't earned a win since April 21 in a game against the San Diego Padres, where he looked effective: he allowed just one hit and no earned runs in six innings.
So, the question lurking is: will Roy Oswalt be able to return to his usual form?
Right now it doesn't look like it, and it's extremely unfortunate because he's in the last guaranteed year of his deal, but at this point he really isn't benefiting the team when he starts.
His ERA is the only one of the Phillies' current five starters—Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, Cole Hamels and himself—that's over 3.00. He's currently the odd-man out in the starting rotation, which is a shame, because he's the kind of pitcher who works hard and strives to do his best every time he takes the mound.
It's questionable as to whether Oswalt will indeed even become a winning pitcher again this season. With seven losses compared to just four wins, and back issues that could spike at any moment, one is left wondering whether Oswalt will pitch like the ace he is.
It's doubtful that he'll return to his Phillies 2010-form for the rest of the season, but like Brad Lidge, anything he can contribute to the team for the home stretch is a good thing.
Here's hoping that Oswalt, regardless of to what extent, will be able to pitch like an ace once again and dominate hitters the way he has in the past.
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