Commentary

Oswalt not quite himself in Phillies debut

Originally Published: July 30, 2010
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

WASHINGTON -- Philadelphia Phillies starter Roy Halladay answers to "Roy'' for four straight days, then morphs into "Doc'' when it's his turn to pitch. According to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Kyle Kendrick goes by "LeRoy,'' even though his middle name is Rodney.

Just for the sake of minimizing confusion, the Phillies might want to think up a new and more distinctive moniker for Roy Oswalt, the latest addition to their starting rotation.

Based on the events of Friday night, it might be wise to hold off on "Savior.'' Or "Lucky.''

[+] EnlargeRoy Oswalt
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesIncluding his Phillies debut, Roy Oswalt has lost his past three starts and leads the majors in losses (13).
The Phillies acquired Oswalt from Houston on Thursday in a trade for lefty J.A. Happ and two minor leaguers, and threw him right into the fray to begin a three-game series against Washington at Nationals Park. Manager Charlie Manuel thought it was best for Oswalt to get an outing under his belt quickly, settle into a routine and put the Houston years behind him in the quest to help the Phillies make a run at a third straight World Series appearance.

Great idea -- in theory.

Cliff Lee gave up six runs to Baltimore in his first start as a Texas Ranger, and Oswalt turned in a similarly nondescript performance in his debut with the Phillies. He suffered from poor fastball command, shaky defense and a lack of offensive support, and the end result was an 8-1 loss to Washington.

Oswalt couldn't be blamed for feeling a little disoriented and perhaps a bit wistful when he took the mound against the Nationals. True, he had come to realize it was time for a change after nine and a half seasons in Houston, and the lure of pitching in a pennant race was enough for him to waive a no-trade clause and accept the deal to Philadelphia without the Phillies signing off on a $16 million mutual option for 2012.

"It's still baseball,'' Oswalt said. But everything was a tad off kilter against Washington. Oswalt felt too amped coming out of the bullpen, squeezed the ball too tightly before releasing it, and looked down once or twice and realized that it might take a while to get used to his new baseball footwear.

"I'm used to the black shoes,'' Oswalt said. "The red shoes were a little different.''

Oswalt had grown accustomed to a lack of help in Houston, as evidenced by his 6-12 record and 3.42 ERA. He's received the second-lowest run support in the majors (only Ted Lilly of the Cubs has gotten less) with only 2.51 runs every nine innings, so it was appropriate that the Phillies put up six straight zeros while he was in the game. Oswalt had been lifted for a pinch hitter when Jayson Werth homered off Nationals starter Craig Stammen to break up the shutout.

The other misadventures just kept multiplying. Washington benefited from some shoddy Philadelphia defense early when third baseman Greg Dobbs booted a ground ball, and catcher Carlos Ruiz was charged with an error when Dobbs failed to cover third base on an Adam Kennedy bunt.

Oswalt probably assumed this wouldn't be his night when Nyjer Morgan lined his first pitch -- a 93 mph fastball -- into the gap and all the way to the Geico sign in right-center field for a triple. By the time Oswalt departed, he had thrown 54 strikes and 32 balls, and accidentally plunked Morgan on the elbow and Adam Dunn on the shoulder with fastballs.

"I didn't see the kind of stuff you expect to see from Roy Oswalt,'' said a scout who was at Friday's game. "I always remember him having a lot of movement, and tonight his ball didn't have much tail or sink to it. There just wasn't much life on his pitches.

I didn't see the kind of stuff you expect to see from Roy Oswalt. I always remember him having a lot of movement, and tonight his ball didn't have much tail or sink to it. There just wasn't much life on his pitches.

-- A scout at Friday's game

"He was throwing 92-94 [mph], but it didn't look like he had much deception, and he didn't have a strikeout pitch. He had to throw a lot of breaking balls because he lacked fastball command, and he didn't have a swing-and-miss breaking ball.''

It was that kind of night all around. In the third inning, Oswalt hit an opposite-field line drive for an apparent base hit. But Nationals right fielder Roger Bernadina, playing shallow, came up throwing and nailed him at first base by a step. Once Oswalt's new teammates get to know him better, they might subject him to some ribbing for being on the wrong end of a 9-3 putout.

"It's not fair when a pitcher gets penalized for a good single,'' Phillies closer Brad Lidge joked. "Roy's a pretty good hitter. He's going to have to start turning on balls and back-legging some home runs.''

Of course, this isn't the Roy Oswalt who posted a 143-82 record and made three All-Star Games as an Astro, and the Phillies are happy to give him a mulligan. Lidge knows Oswalt from their six seasons together in Houston, and Rollins and Shane Victorino played with him on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Starting Saturday, Oswalt can exhale, and his fellow Phillies will do their best to welcome him to the fraternity and ease his comfort level.

"Nobody wanted to talk to him today, obviously,'' Cole Hamels said, "so we'll get to know him tomorrow. Things can get back to normal. I've heard great things about him. He's a quality person on and off the field.''

On the subject of nicknames, how long will it take until some enterprising headline writer refers to the Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt combination as H2O?

While Oswalt adapts to this new chapter in Philadelphia, he's seeing his baseball career flash before his eyes. On Thursday, he said goodbye to the only franchise he had ever known. On Friday, he learned that Lance Berkman -- the face of the Houston organization since Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio left town -- was on the verge of becoming a New York Yankee. The two are sufficiently close that Berkman was the first person that Oswalt called when he learned he had been traded to Philadelphia.

"I think it'll be good for Lance,'' Oswalt said. "Sometimes you get into a rut doing the same thing over and over, and I think it will be great for him to get back into a pennant race and feel the excitement of it.''

Oswalt could just as easily have been referring to a certain 6-foot, 190-pound right-hander who now pitches for the Phillies. He's already feeling the excitement over his new baseball home. All he has to do now is give the Phillies a glimpse of the real Roy Oswalt.

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer

ALSO SEE