If the bulging disks in his back that kept him on the disabled list for six weeks leave him be, Oswalt could give the Phillies a fresh arm for the stretch run.
In his second start since coming off the DL, Oswalt gave the Phillies an encouraging performance in Saturday's 11-3 win over Washington at Citizens Bank Park.
He went seven workmanlike innings, gave up three runs, and struck out five while walking only one. His fastball was consistently in the 91- to 93-m.p.h. range, and he had only one shaky inning.
Most important, his back was not an issue. It certainly was in late June, when Oswalt wondered aloud whether he'd ever again pitch before spending six weeks on the DL.
"This is a lot better than telling you guys I don't know if I'm going to play or not," he said. "Getting strength and durability is the biggest thing now."
Oswalt threw 96 pitches to get his first win since June 12.
He said he could have gone another inning, but what was the point? By then, Ryan Howard had knocked in four runs, and Washington had self-destructed with three errors that helped lead to the Phillies' scoring seven unearned runs.
"I felt pretty well tonight. I felt really good with my off-speed stuff," Oswalt said. "Overall the fastball is coming back, and I still feel healthy."
Manager Charlie Manuel said Oswalt appeared sharper than in his previous start - a 3-1 loss at San Francisco in which Oswalt allowed 12 hits over six innings.
"I felt like in San Francisco he was still working on his command," Manuel said after the Phillies raised their lead in the NL East to 81/2 games over Atlanta. "I think it's just a matter of time until he's real sharp. You can tell he's moving much better."
On a night when the Nationals were all thumbs, Howard hit his 26th homer and raised his RBI total to 95, most in the majors. His homer off Nats starter John Lannan was his second of the season off a lefthander.
The win also offered this oddity: Jimmy Rollins reached base in each of his five plate appearances, yet had only one hit.
With a starting rotation and lineup laden with all-stars, near flawless fielding is probably the most overlooked facet of the Phillies' game. It can best be appreciated when measured against their opponents, such as the Nationals.
The Phillies did most of their damage in the third inning, when they scored five runs, four with the help of Washington's faulty gloves.
The inning began with Shane Victorino's reaching base on an error by shortstop Ian Desmond. Howard picked up his third RBI of the game with a single to make it 3-2. With two out, the Phillies made certain the Nats would pay for Desmond's blunder by adding four runs on one hit and three walks by Lannan, one intentional.
Lannan lasted three innings and walked five. Six of the seven runs the Phillies scored off him were unearned, and his career record against the Phillies dropped to 1-11 in 15 starts.
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or email@example.com.