- Alan Schwarz, MLB
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Even though he has pitched in the majors for only two years, Roy Oswalt will soon have thrown more big-league innings than there were people in his hometown (533). Tiny Weir, Miss., doesn't have a traffic light, just a four-way stop sign. But it does boast one of the top young pitchers in baseball today.
Oswalt, 25, won 19 games last year and is proving that a short right-hander (6 feet, 175 pounds) can thrive in the majors if he has the moxie to pitch hard and inside. Although Oswalt has started this season off a little erratically -- he carries a 2-2 record and 3.86 ERA into Tuesday's start against the Braves -- he still is one of the more daunting hurlers in the game. He sat down recently to discuss pitching inside, shooting buck back in Mississippi -- and how getting electrocuted might have saved his career.
Question: Are you the National League's answer to Tim Hudson, an undersized, Bayou-born right-hander who likes sticking pitches up hitters' noses?
Oswalt: Kind of. I've watched him pitch a lot. I think the biggest mentality is to go out there thinking that no one can beat you. A lot of guys try to look at size as an excuse to get out of something. But in baseball, the size doesn't really matter. It's the heart.
Question: How much fun is it to throw inside?
Oswalt: It's fun to see the fear of the hitter -- especially if you've got a big-name hitter up there, and you throw inside, you can tell it gets under their skin. They want the ball out over the plate. Especially a young guy like me throwing inside, they don't like that too much. I believe you have to. If you don't knock 'em down once in a while, then they get real comfortable. The biggest key to being successful is throwing balls inside for strikes and balls inside to move their feet. You have to throw a pitch to get them out of their stance.
Question: Your teammates rave about how you don't ever get rattled on the mound. Isn't it human to get a little nervous with Bonds or Sosa or Vladimir Guerrero coming up to the plate with the game on the line?
Oswalt: I think a lot of people read too much into who's coming up there instead of believing in themselves to get the guy out. I don't believe, any time, that any one who goes up there will get a hit. I don't look at the names on the jersey. I just pitch to a spot. If you do what you're planning on doing, nine out of 10 times you're gonna get them out.
Question: Jeff Bagwell says that if Babe Ruth grabbed a bat you wouldn't be fazed at all. How would you pitch the Babe? Would you drill him?
Oswalt: I'd pitch inside pretty good. Then I'd get him to chase some high fastballs.
Question: You have a healthy rivalry with Wade Miller, another young arm at the top of the rotation. What does he do better than you, and what do you do better than him?
Oswalt: He's got a big power curveball -- some hitters know it's coming and still can't hit it. That's something I really don't have. I can't accelerate the curve up to 80-82 miles an hour. Mine's more 76-77, an off-speed curveball. It amazes me he can get that kind of velocity on the ball.
Question: And what can you do better than him?
Oswalt: Right now, I'm leading in hitting. But the biggest thing now is changing speeds. I change speeds more. I throw the curveball at two different speeds, the fastball at two different speeds. Also a slider -- a hard slider and soft slider.
Question: Speaking of your repertoire, I've seen some great data on the pitches you throw, and where and when you throw them. One thing I noticed is that you get a lot of your strikeouts on curves and almost all your walks on fastballs. That seems backward -- I'd have thought the fastball would have more control and the curve would be more erratic and bend out of the zone.
Oswalt: With a curveball, a lot of times you can get a guy to chase it out of the zone. If you can get the curveball to start in the same path out of your hand as the fastball and get it to drop out, usually you can get the guy to swing. Whereas if the fastball starts of the zone they're not going to.
Question: I also saw that compared to last year, this year a lot more of your pitches are coming in belt-high or above. Even though you're often effective with high fastballs, is this a clue as to why you're not off to as good of a start as last year?
Oswalt: A lot of times I try to climb the ladder on guys. This year I'm missing a lot of times on first and second pitches down and away. I'm usually real good spotting down and away. I don't try to throw down there -- it's just sort of natural. This year, it seems like the ball is coming back more toward the plate. I'm trying to get my hump out of my curveball, too. Usually it comes out a little flatter. Now it's coming out of my hand with a hump.
Question: So which honor do you consider more prestigious -- the Cy Young Award, or winning the Big Buck Contest at Crossroads Grocery back home?
Oswalt: I guess the Cy Young. The Big Buck's a pretty big accomplishment, though. I've won it twice so far. The first year I won with a 10-point buck -- five horns on each side. The next year I killed an eight-point. Whoever wins gets the mount. It's a pretty big deal.
Question: I also hear you have an affinity for sparkplugs.
Oswalt: It was 1999. I'm at Class A ball, Midwest League. My shoulder felt like it was torn. It hurt so much I couldn't sleep at night. I had to take six Advil to go to sleep. It was just killing me. A month after I got home after the playoffs it was still killing me. There was definitely something torn. There's no way it can hurt this much with just tendinitis. I told my wife, "I'm gonna have to call the doctor."
I was outside working my truck, checking the sparkplug wires. I grabbed this one sparkplug wire, and the truck started, and the current just started shooting bolts through me. That made the muscles in my hand tighten up, so I can't let go of this thing. I was holding on to it for what felt like two days, but it was probably just a minute. I couldn't let go. Finally my foot slipped off the bumper and I got thrown off.
When I got up, my arm felt better. I went home and told my wife, 'You're never gonna believe what just happened.' About a week later I couldn't feel any pain in there at all. And I haven't since.
Question: So you ever recommend this treatment to Bagwell for his bad shoulder?
Oswalt: Yeah, but I can't get him to grab it.
Question: As a small-town, blue-collar guy, do you bring that out to the mound with you?
Oswalt: Everyone gets amazed with a city like New York, but everyplace I go is bigger than where I grew up. So it's no big deal. Moving to Houston was like moving to a whole new country.
Question: And when you're on the mound, which do you like better, overpowering guys or tricking guys?
Oswalt: Overpowering. I grew up watching Nolan Ryan. I liked the way he pitched. He pitched aggressive -- went right after guys, knocked down guys when he needed to. Just to be able to throw the ball by guys is a rush. Especially when a guy is sitting on a fastball and you actually throw it by him to defeat him. That's a lot better than tricking him.
Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
Roy Oswalt has electric stuff, but it was a real shocker that might have saved his career.