Maybe Roy Oswalt knew what he was doing all along
Silly me, I thought Roy Oswalt had made a big mistake in not taking the best offer on the table and showing up at Spring Training somewhere. While he wanted to pitch for the Cardinals or Rangers, those teams didn’t have openings. I figured he might come to regret his decision. Hey, they forget you real fast.
Turn outs, he may have been the smartest person in the room. With Chris Carpenter headed back to St. Louis to be checked out and his status for Opening Day unclear, with Neftali Feliz having his right shoulder examined, there’s suddenly some uncertainty on two pitching staffs that were believed to be among the deepest and most talented in all the land.
The Rangers still do have depth. Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish have four spots locked down. The Rangers were committed to moving to Feliz into the rotation this spring because (a) his stuff is electrifying and (b) they signed Joe Nathan to handle the closer’s role.
But there were questions. As a closer, Feliz could stick with his fastball-slider combination and get by. He had great stuff, but let’s be kind and say he didn’t always have command of that stuff. As a starter, he was going to have to get better command of his fastball. If he couldn’t throw a first-pitch fastball in the strike zone, he wasn’t going to succeed regardless of what else he had.
But to be a successful starter, a productive starter, he needed a change-up. There’s simply no way around this one. He can cut the fastball and change speeds off the fastball, but to be really successful, he was going to need a passable change-up, if just to keep hitters from sitting on the hard stuff.
That change-up was a work in progress, and as Nolan Ryan said the other day, Feliz was much more of a question than Darvish. Darvish has struggled at times to command his fastball this spring, but he has a history of getting it in the strike zone and sets it up with an assortment of other pitches. He’s also accustomed to a starter’s workload.
Still, the Rangers have Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman prepared to step into the rotation. They also have two of baseball’s top pitching prospects in Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez. Even though Nolan Ryan is a huge fan of Oswalt’s, it’s not yet clear there’s a fit for him in Arlington.
He has known Oswalt since 2000 when he ran the Astros’ Double-A affiliate in Round Rock. Oswalt was called up from Class A ball to make a spot start with the understanding that he’d be sent right back. At the time, the Astros were, shall we say, methodical in the speed with which they advanced young pitchers.
Oswalt was dazzling in that one starter, and after the game, Nolan’s son Reid informed his dad that the Astros were still going to send Oswalt back to Class A ball. Reid laughs about it now, remembering how his dad got a look on his face that resembles the one he has after a bad plate of enchiladas.
“I think I’m going to have to make a phone call,” Nolan said.
Nolan telephoned someone, either Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker or Astros owner Drayton McLane, and told them that sending Oswalt back to Class A ball would be a waste of time. The Astros listened, and a year later, Oswalt began a terrific Major League career.
Depending on what the doctors say about Feliz, Ryan and Oswalt could be reunited again.
For the Cardinals, it’s a matter of several factors. One obviously is Carpenter’s health. Their optimism about this season was based on getting Adam Wainwright back and putting him in the rotation behind Carpenter. There was always concern about Carpenter because he threw 273 innings last season and more than 500 the last two. Even without Albert Pujols, the Cardinals believed they could win again if Carlos Beltran had a solid year and if the rotation was as good as advertised.
Now they’ll nervously await the report on Carpenter. The thing about possibly losing someone of his stature is that there’s no one out there available who will come close to replacing Carpenter’s innings and production. One of the reasons Oswalt is still unsigned is that he’s coming off a season when he made just 23 starts and pitched only 139 innings.
In other words, he’s a gamble. The Rangers and Cardinals were constructed with the belief that they didn’t have a need for him. But during a long season, needs change, and Oswalt could find himself in demand again in the next few days.