Phillies can't gloss over Oswalt issues anymore

Posted: June 24, 2011

ST. LOUIS - When Roy Oswalt admitted to some discomfort in his back earlier this season, everybody involved insisted it was no big deal.

When the veteran righthander and card-carrying member of The Four Aces Pitching Company Inc. won just one game after April 21, it was written off as just a little command issue combined with a lack of run support.

When he left the team for a week to help his family clean up tornado damage around their Mississippi homes, the party line was that it hadn't set him back in any way.

When inquiring minds mentioned a decrease in Oswalt's velocity, Rich Dubee let his inner Johnnie Cochran out to play. "You guys [in the media] get caught up in the radar gun. 'Well, the guy can't pitch anymore because he's 2 miles an hour short of what he was,' " he said in his best, sarcastic, defense attorney voice. "It's all about commanding. Any scout can look at a damn radar gun and say, 'Oh, he's not throwing 99. Can't use him.' "

After Oswalt was forced to leave last night's 12-2 loss to the Cardinals after just two innings with more back problems, manager Charlie Manuel conceded that the team knew he wasn't right. Oswalt himself said it has been bothering him for a while and that it's worse than it was earlier in the season.

"At this point, I'm not helping the team. I'm a liability more than anything. I really wasn't productive [last night]. I was more heaving the ball than throwing the ball. I don't think it's doing no good to keep going out there," Oswalt said.

An MRI has been scheduled for Monday. When Oswalt last went into the tube, he was diagnosed with two degenerative disks.

There's no getting around it. This has officially become a real issue significant in the Phillies' quest for world domination. Or at least another World Series championship.

Oswalt will not make his next start. And it's not out of the question that this development could be career-threatening.

"You throw as long as you can throw and when you can't throw no more you can't throw no more," he said casually. "I'm going to keep throwing as long as I can and hopefully it hasn't gotten to the point where I can't throw no more."

He admitted he's taken cortisone shots in the past, but wasn't sure if that's an option now.

"You can only get so many shots. After you get so many of them, stuff starts breaking off. I don't want that to happen," he said.

A team built largely on the foundation of its quartet of No. 1-type starters - Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Oswalt - has lost one of its cornerstones. There's no way of knowing with certainty when the 33-year-old who was the Phillies' big trading-deadline acquisition from the Astros a year ago will be back. Or whether he still will have what it takes to pitch like he did after putting on the red pinstripes - 7-1 with a 1.74 earned run average in 13 games - when he does.

Velocity didn't seem to be a problem last night. Oswalt's fastball was consistently 90 to 92 and touched 93 occasionally. But he gave up a solo homer to Jon Jay in the first and three straight singles to start the second; each runner eventually scored.

It would be incorrect to suggest that Oswalt has pitched poorly this season. His earned run average coming into the game was 3.38. But the overheated expectations coming into the season and the fact that the other three starters have been performing at such a high level lately made Oswalt's comparative struggles stand out.

There are still plenty of questions to be answered. But one thing is clear. It can no longer be denied that Oswalt is now a question mark instead of an exclamation point in the Phillies' scheme of things. And that's bad news no matter how you try to spin it.

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