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Roy Oswalt has looked far better in relief than he did in the Rangers' rotation. Will he come to grips with his new profile and embrace the role? (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Monday, Aug 6 at 2:32 PM
We've only seen the beginning stages of the 'Roy Oswalt coming out of the bullpen' experiment, but the early returns on the mound have been outstanding. I understand that it's early but my primary belief is that Oswalt could be a key piece to the bullpen going forward, due to pitching in a role that is less taxing on his oft-injured back.
You may note the first paragraph included a few qualifiers: 'on the mound' and 'could be.' That's because Roy Oswalt isn't taking his demotion to the bullpen very well.
In his first start, Oswalt went 6 2/3 innings, throwing 110 pitches, giving up only 1 run and allowing 9 hits, as the Rangers beat a terrible Colorado team. He gave up 13 hits in each of his next two starts, surrendering 5 runs in a win against Detroit and 9 runs in a loss to Chicago. He followed that up with two strong starts against two awful offenses in Minnesota and Oakland.
That brings us to last Monday in Arlington, when Oswalt was rocked for 8 runs on 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings pitched, while also giving up 3 home runs. I always knew he was pretty hitable, just because he's a strike thrower. In his career, he has a K/BB rate of 3.54, with a 2012 K/BB rate of over 5, but it was in that particular start when I noticed something else about Oswalt.
In the two games that spiraled out of control (Chicago 7/3 and LAA 7/30), it was really clear that everything was being left up in the zone. Whether it was his fastball zooming in at the belt or his off-speed stuff rolling over at the letters with no sharp break, everything was up high in hitter's paradise.
Oswalt's overall body of work: an engorged mess of a 6.49 ERA. He surrendered 7 home runs in a mere 34 2/3 innings. Adding to the circus, Roy took his demotion as a personal affront, defending his performance ('We won four of my six starts!').
After being moved to the bullpen, Oswalt has compiled two really sucessfull performances. In his first outing on Thursday against the Angels he went two scoreless innings. Yesterday against Kansas City, Oswalt was pumping in a low fastball in the 92-95 range and working quickly for a final line of 2 innings pitched, zero hits allowed, and 4 strikeouts.
His troublesome back problems are no secret, and I think the bullpen is a way to get the most out of Oswalt. The thing allowing him to keep the fastball down in the zone and spin a sharper breaking ball is the ability to follow through and finish his pitches. The difference between throwing 20-30 pitches rather than 100 pitches means that he can focus more on really bending his back and following through.
When he knows he has to go 6 innings and throw 100 pitches, I think it's human nature for him to subconsciously take a few pitches off in terms of finishing his motion. It's a way to get more out of less, and it's also a way to be sure that you are getting the optimum version of Roy Oswalt -- the model you thought you were getting when he was signed two months ago. It's a mechanical issue that's a lot easier to complete when he knows he won't be out there long. It's physically and mentally less of a burden on Oswalt and his back.
Roy's hissy fit complicates things. After being asked to take the ball for a third inning in yesterday's series finale against Kansas City, Roy reportedly told Ron Washington he had "had enough." Jon Daniels later expressed he knew Oswalt was displeased with his role in the bullpen, but felt that was where the team could best use him.
Herein lies the problem. This conflict has come down to Roy's ego vs. Roy's ability. There isn't a middle-ground that can satisfy both elements. He got rocked too thoroughly for management to consider re-inserting him into the regular rotation. It seems inevitable things will come to a head. Perhaps Roy will come down to earth after a long, stern staredown from his old pal Nolan Ryan. Perhaps he'll continue to complain and distract, in which case the Ranger Roy era will be very short indeed.
I'm sure the club will slide him back into the rotation if there's a need. His peripheral numbers suggest he should be better than he was showing early, and his history of dependability could easily make him a solid option if injuries decide they haven't decimated the Ranger rotation quite enough yet. But for that option to remain open, he has to shut his mouth and do his job.
Early returns are proving that Oswalt might be able to provide a versatile, experienced arm to the back end of the Rangers bullpen that would be extremely valuable in the playoffs. Health has been a persistent issue during the last few years of Oswalt's career. By pushing him to the bullpen and taking the toll off his back, this could be Oswalt's swan song, in a role that is unfamiliar yet still very important.
Kevin Turner is a member of Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket. He can be reached on twitter at @KT1310 or emailed at email@example.com. Talk to him about baseball, indie music or TV. Anything on TV.