Manuel non-answers, kind of, saying that all of his starters figure to have about four more starts apiece. Then he will decide who starts a potential Game 4 in the first round of the playoffs, after Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels (in some order). It will be either Worley or Roy Oswalt. It is very likely to be Oswalt, by the way. Barring something unforeseen, it should be Oswalt.
Still, you cannot help but wonder, given Worley's wondrous numbers: 11-1, 2.85 earned run average. So you follow up by trying to highlight the idea that nobody would have considered the possibility even a few weeks ago, that it is amazing to be able even to form the words.
At which point, Manuel stops you.
"I think that's a question that should be asked," the manager said. "I think, without a doubt, the question should be asked. Look at what he's done. That speaks for itself. That speaks volumes. That tells you how good he's been."
And so, as we invent reasons to stay interested in this dominating team in its final month of regular-season inevitability, there is this:
Worley or Oswalt in Game 4 of the NLDS?
Oswalt joked about the nascent speculation, saying he read some stuff and concluded, "I thought I got released." He said, "People are searching for things to say." And, well, guilty as charged.
Still, the fact that the 23-year-old Worley has barged his way into the conversation is one of the stories of this 2011 season for the Phillies. Most people figured Worley for a cup-of-coffee kind of guy this year - and a decent percentage of people guessed that Worley would have spilled that cup of coffee - but he has continued to impress with his persistence and his unflappability and his penchant for freezing batters for strike three.
The irony is that, as he has built momentum through the season, Worley's success has allowed Oswalt time and space to recover from a lower-back inflammation that put him on the disabled list in late April and sidelined him again in late June. In his latest effort, Oswalt had a no-hitter through five innings last night against the Braves, got through seven allowing only two runs and four hits, but he received a no-decision. His record remains at 7-8. His ERA is 3.72.
Manuel said he was hoping to see Oswalt get up to near 115 pitches, mimicking his last start - and he did. "I think that's the only way he's going to get the strength in his arm," Manuel said, adding that it also was the only way Oswalt would be able to develop the command of his pitches that he needed.
Much has been made about the up-and-down velocity of Oswalt's fastball. Manuel said he believed, in big spots in games, that Oswalt could touch 93 or 94 mph when he needed to, fueled by the adrenaline of the moment. On the scoreboard radar gun, Oswalt did just that against the Braves.
"I think it's just the nature of the guy, who he is," Manuel said. "The bigger the moment, the harder you're going to see him throw."
Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee are looking for long outings from Oswalt and overall arm strength - and he appears to be building toward that goal. This was his sixth start since the latest back problems, and in those starts he has lasted 6, 7, 8, 5 2/3, 6 1/3 and 7 innings. His ERA in those six starts has been 3.60.
It is coming along. Plus, as Manuel said, "Experience does count. He has been there."
It is Oswalt's spot to lose. It should be Oswalt's spot to lose. He says he is getting there, his arm strength, all of it. He added, "I like it when it gets a little cooler, kind of turns into playoff baseball."
Still, the conversation is ongoing. Whatever happens, that fact alone validates Vance Worley's amazing season.
Reach Rich's blog, The Idle Rich, at
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