One of the best backup plans in the majors will be put to the test Friday night against the Colorado Rockies. The Texas Rangers didn’t need veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt at the start of the season because they had so much depth on the pitching staff.
But with the loss of starter Neftali Feliz to an elbow injury, signing Oswalt became a no-brainer. Subsequent injuries to Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando have made Oswalt even more valuable to the organization. The Rangers resisted the urge to rush Oswalt to the big-league mound, although it did cross their minds after one particularly poor outing.
Now, Oswalt is set to make his debut with the Rangers on Friday at the Ballpark. The organization couldn’t have picked a better opponent for Oswalt to get his feet wet. Besides being awful this season, the Rockies haven’t fared well against Oswalt in the past. He is 8-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 12 career starts against Colorado. It’s a step up from facing Oklahoma City, but not a huge one.
The Rangers have been able to withstand a rash of injuries to the pitching staff because of timely hitting and the consistency of starting pitchers Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison. And now that Yu Darvish has found his command in back-to-back wins, this team has snapped out of a month-long funk. Of course, it also helps to face some dreadful teams. The Rangers struggled with some of those ballclubs earlier this season, but they’ve scored back-to-backs sweeps of the Astros and Padres.
It seems the signing of Oswalt has had a calming effect on the Rangers pitching staff. Even though he’s 34 and was plagued by a back injury last season, Oswalt still garners a tremendous amount of respect around the league. If he’s able to regain the form that he had for the Phillies just two years ago, the Rangers could end up with a formidable starting rotation.
Oswalt’s a proven winner who has started World Series games and been a legitimate ace. He’s not expected to be a No. 1 pitcher for the Rangers, but imagine how tough Oswalt could be as the third or fourth pitcher in a playoff series. The good news is that it sounds like he’s missed the competition.
Oswalt took a leave of absence from the Phillies in late April last season because the area where he lives in Mississippi had been ravaged by tornadoes. The Phillies were happy to grant him the time away, but some folks within the organization were reportedly miffed when he didn’t keep them updated on his progress. Oswalt returned to the team but then had to miss six weeks because of the back injury. He finished the season 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA and lost Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series against St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps that poor season — by his standards — will motivate Oswalt with the Rangers.
“That’s what you play for is to get back out here,” Oswalt told reporters Wednesday during a conference call. “Everyone that plays this game is looking for competition. You miss that when you’re not around it, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been watching this team for the last two years and thought I’d be competing against them [in the playoffs.] [We] thought we had the best team in the NL and fell short. It’s just a solid team, and I’m ready to get back on the field.”
It would not surprise if Oswalt won eight or nine games and posted a 3.30 ERA. And the Rangers would be thrilled with that type of production. Harrison and Darvish have already combined for 18 wins this season, so it’s not unreasonable to think that Oswalt could put up some solid numbers. He has a great bond with Rangers president Nolan Ryan from their time with the Astros and he also knows pitching coach Mike Maddux and bench coach Jackie Moore.
There’s a comfort factor with this organization that he may not have felt with the Phillies. Rangers manager Ron Washington said in spring training that he expected Darvish to win at least 16 games in the regular-season, so it makes sense that he’d have even more confidence in a veteran such as Oswalt.
“He brings experience, pitched in many big-time games,” Washington told reporters in San Diego. “We know he’s not intimidated. We certainly expect him to eat a lot of innings and by eating those innings, help us win ballgames. That’s the bottom line: helping us win ballgames. His last start proved he’s ready to pitch.”
Teams normally have to wait until the trade deadline in July to make a run at a player of Oswalt’s stature. But the Rangers were able to sign him straight off his Mississippi farm. They had a lot of insider knowledge on the former Astros ace.
And it’s not like it was some type of huge risk. If Oswalt struggles, it won’t completely undermine the Rangers’ chances of winning a World Series. But if he pitches anything like the Roy Oswalt who dominated hitters in the National League for years, the Rangers’ backup plan will look brilliant.