Oswalt ready to resume career on his terms
Here comes the midseason return of Roy Oswalt in circumstances of his own choosing; for the team he wants to pitch for, in a place not that far from his Mississippi home, at a time he found suitable, just after the summer solstice.
Oswalt will start for the Texas Rangers tonight at Rangers Ballpark against the Colorado Rockies. It is probably fitting that Oswalt makes his Texas debut in an Interleague game. Oswalt built his considerable reputation in the National League, primarily with the Houston Astros, but most recently with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Oswalt has a reputation not only as an extraordinary pitcher but as a fierce competitor. One way or another, he has been a consistent winner, compiling a career mark of 159-93, with a 3.21 ERA. At 34, he is not that far removed from his best work, which would include the second half of the 2010 season, after he was traded from Houston to Philadelphia.
Oswalt was twice a 20-game winner with Houston, pitched in a World Series, won three games in a single postseason (2005) and generally rose to whatever an occasion required of him. He was an integral part of an Astros team that, in his earlier years, was a perennial contender. For all of these reasons, Oswalt was widely pursued in the offseason, and he was still pursued when he made it clear that he would prefer to pitch only a portion of the season. Since Oswalt was limited to 23 starts last year because of back problems, the idea of him pitching little more than half a season seemed to some teams less a drawback than a prudent alternative.
Oswalt's late-June arrival is timely in at least one sense. The Rangers have three pitchers on the disabled list -- Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. The Rangers have assembled admirable pitching depth, but the need still exists for another proven veteran presence in the rotation. The record says Roy Oswalt can more than fill that role.
Both the Rangers and Oswalt can take comfort from the fact that there are positive precedents for the successful midseason returns of veteran pitchers. A former Houston teammate of Oswalt, Roger Clemens, did this with the Astros. But there is a more current example, from another Houston teammate of Oswalt's, Andy Pettitte.
Pettitte retired after the 2010 season. Oswalt has only been gone since last October. But Pettitte found himself with the desire to compete again this spring and the New York Yankees wisely went along with him. Pettitte returned to the Majors on May 13, and since then, in seven starts he has put up a 3-2 record with a 2.77 ERA. Five of his past six outings have been quality starts. In all five of those starts, Pettitte allowed two or fewer earned runs.
It is not a stretch to say that Pettitte has helped to stabilize the Yankees rotation since his return. It is not a coincidence that the Yankees are 14-4 this month, or that they have once again taken up residence in first place since the return of Pettitte, or that they have the second-best record in the AL.
Pettitte, who turned 40 just days ago, will also be starting tonight when the Yankees and the Mets resume the Subway Series, this time at Citi Field. He's been a role model for a lot of pitchers, and in this case, he offers Roy Oswalt a hopeful example of what can be accomplished by a veteran pitcher returning to the game in his own time and at his own preference.
There is an excellent chance, of course, that the Rangers don't care about Pettitte and the Yankees, other than perceiving them as distinctly possible postseason opponents. The Rangers are in first place in the AL West and own the best record in the league.
But even at that lofty level, the Rangers are like most mere baseball mortals -- they could use more pitching. That would be Roy Oswalt's cue and his opportunity to once again be an important factor for a ballclub that is on the way to winning something significant.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.