Oswalt extends 'quality' streak in Astros' win
Righty hurls eight strong innings in Houston's first shutout of '10
MILWAUKEE -- Roy Oswalt figures to be one of the most popular names thrown around in trade rumors over the next two months after the pitcher came out last week and acknowledged he wanted the Astros to try to deal him to a contender.
Having pitched nine consecutive quality starts to begin the season, Oswalt's trade value couldn't have been much higher. He raised it to another level Wednesday after throwing eight scoreless innings to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-0, at Miller Park in the Astros' first shutout of the season.
Oswalt (3-6), making his first start since it became public he had requested a trade, broke a four-game losing streak by holding the Brewers to four hits -- three doubles and a single -- and striking out nine batters. He struck out each spot in the Milwaukee batting order once.
"He was in control the whole way, and he was able to throw all his pitches for strikes and move the ball around the zone," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "That was fun to watch. His mound presence and everything else was outstanding, and I think he answered a lot of questions from a lot of people."
Rumors about where Oswalt might wind up have run rampant in recent days, and Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan even called the Astros to gauge their interest, though the Rangers won't be prepared to do anything until their ownership situation is resolved.
The players haven't let the speculation bother them.
"What can you do?" Astros left fielder Carlos Lee said. "That's his decision, and either good or bad, he's still our teammate. If he stays or he goes, we can't worry about that."
As far as Oswalt is concerned, he wasn't about to let the off-the-field developments serve as a distraction either.
"I'm going to try to do my job every time I go out," Oswalt said. "It doesn't affect me. The guys came out and gave me the lead, and I was able to hold onto it."
Leads have been few and far between this season for Oswalt, who entered the game with the worst run support in the National League. The Astros broke out for five runs through five innings, which were the most runs they've scored this year in a game Oswalt has started.
"The first three innings, my mechanics were a little bit off and we got some runs, and I was worried about giving them up," Oswalt said. "I kind of caught my mechanics in the fourth and was able to hold them off and hold onto [my mechanics] until the eighth."
The win is the 140th of Oswalt's career, putting him four shy of tying Joe Niekro for the club's all-time lead. He's the first Houston pitcher to begin the season with 10 consecutive quality starts since Bob Knepper in 1988. The club record is 11.
"He's one of the greatest pitchers right now," said Milwaukee center fielder Carlos Gomez, who went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. "Today, he was really aggressive. I had four at-bats against him, and he never hung a pitch."
The heart of the Astros' batting order -- Hunter Pence, Lee and Lance Berkman -- went a combined 7-for-12 with four RBIs. Shortstop Tommy Manzella had a pair of hits, and Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger each had a hit and a run scored.
"Roy went out there and had another strong performance, and it was nice to give him some runs and get him a win," Lee said. "We haven't taken advantage ... every time he goes out there, he keeps you in the game and allows one or two runs. We haven't been able to accomplish anything. This is the beginning of something, and hopefully we can move in the right direction."
The Brewers never had a runner reach third base despite a two-out double in the first by Ryan Braun, a leadoff double in the fourth by Braun and a one-out double in the seventh by Corey Hart. In the fourth, Oswalt walked Prince Fielder after Braun's double to put two runners on with no outs, but he struck out the next three batters and seven of the next nine.
"I don't ever really try to get strikeouts," Oswalt said. "You try to throw a quality pitch with two strikes, and sometimes when you get a lead, you get a little more freedom with your arm and you're not thinking about them getting back in the count, going 2-2, 3-2. You're able to throw some pitches in the strike zone and let them get out."
Bourn led off the game with a walk against Brewers starter Chris Narveson (4-2) and scored from second base on a two-out infield single by Lee. The ball was hit back up the middle and fielded behind second base by Rickie Weeks, whose throw home was late. Bourn picked up the sign from third-base coach Dave Clark and never stopped running.
"I had a feeling it didn't get through," Bourn said. "I peeked to see where the ball was coming [to the plate] so I knew where to go, and I'm glad I did because Lance didn't happen to get back there to tell me which way to slide, and I knew which way to slide to get around the catcher."
The Astros took a 3-0 lead in the third when they strung together four consecutive hits, including an RBI double by Pence and an RBI single by Lee. Bourn made it 4-0 in the fourth with a run-scoring single, and Berkman's RBI single in the fifth made it 5-0.
"We got them early and it gives you a little bit more freedom to throw different pitches in situations, whereas when you have a little bit tighter ballgame, you throw your two top pitches," Oswalt said. "I felt pretty decent every start, and in crucial situations when you get guys on in scoring position, I've been able to throw quality pitches and get out of it."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.