So it's natural to wonder: Is Oswalt having as much fun as the final few months of last season?
"Yeah," he said flatly.
It was an unconvincing answer, but Oswalt was not to blame for being in a foul mood Friday. He lost for the third time this month, and since his return from the disabled list May 17, the Phillies are 2-5 in games started by Oswalt.
"I thought I've thrown the ball pretty well," he said. "I haven't thrown the ball great. But I've been throwing the ball pretty well."
There are no shortage of theories on what's eating at Oswalt and his fastball. He has a history of back problems, and they were aggravated April 15. But the pitcher and everyone else around the Phillies insist he is healthy.
Oswalt is in the final year of a five-year, $73 million contract he signed with Houston. The Phillies hold a $16 million club option (with a $2 million buyout). But Oswalt has never ruled out retirement, and after he returned from Mississippi, he made that even clearer.
"I can walk away from the game today and be happy," Oswalt said May 5.
When manager Charlie Manuel was asked whether he thinks Oswalt is a different pitcher, he admitted that he has had such thoughts. He has his own theory.
"He'll come out pretty soon, and his fastball will be back where it was," Manuel said. "There comes a time when the fastball, all of it isn't there sometimes. It's how your arm feels and how you're throwing. It's like a hitter not hitting. It's just a matter of time until you see his fastball jump up. There's nothing wrong with him. I think it'll come."
Oswalt, of course, has not been terrible. He has a 3.38 ERA in 12 starts. But a plummeting strikeout rate, decreased fastball velocity, and higher contact rate are all trends that could beget more letdowns.
Last season, Oswalt struck out 8.21 batters per nine innings. His rate is 5.32 per nine innings in 2011. His fastball averaged 91 m.p.h. Friday, and that's where it has hovered most of the season as opposed to 93 m.p.h., his average in 2010.
"I felt pretty good early," Oswalt said. "I was throwing the normal speed I always throw."
For the first time in 30 days, Ross Gload appeared in Manuel's lineup. He was the designated hitter Saturday against Felix Hernandez.
The 35-year-old pinch-hitter has been limited by a torn muscle in his hip. Entering Saturday, he was hitting .286 and led the majors with nine pinch-hits. But he had yet to have a hit for extra bases.
Brian Schneider was 2 for 4 with a double in his second rehab game at double-A Reading. Schneider did not catch and instead played as the designated hitter. . . . The Phillies are scheduled to face three righthanders in St. Louis - Kyle McClellan, Kyle Lohse, and Chris Carpenter.
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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