On Oswalt's fastball

The Phillies have tentatively penciled in Roy Oswalt as the Tuesday starter in St. Louis. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Maybe the expectations were just a tad bit unreasonable.

In 16 days, Roy Oswalt did not pitch. His last start in Arizona on April 26 ended after three innings. The next day, he caught a flight to Mississippi to be with his family after tornadoes caused damage to his hometown and did not return to the Phillies for nine days.

A few bullpen sessions were productive because his back did not hurt. But after his last one, Tuesday in Miami, even Oswalt admitted his stuff was not there yet.

Still, the Phillies had slotted him for Tuesday in St. Louis with the hopes that one minor-league rehab start would be plenty. And maybe it was. Maybe Oswalt will gain his fastball velocity and control in his side bullpen session this weekend in Atlanta. Maybe this shook off all the rust and he will pitch Tuesday.

Or maybe he just needs more time.

We don't really know because Oswalt left Bright House Field on Thursday without speaking to reporters. Catcher Carlos Ruiz offered some insight that was fairly obvious from just watching the righthander against the single-A Palm Beach Cardinals: His fastball was mostly lifeless.

"He was throwing more off-speed today than the fastball because he feels his fastball is not there," Ruiz said. "He said he felt OK. Hopefully he feels OK because we need him."

Yes, his curveball and change-up looked great. But this was against inexperienced hitters at single A. Against major leaguers, he needs his fastball, the pitch he throws the most and builds everything else off of.

His stuff Thursday was very reminiscent of that last outing in Arizona. In that game, his fastball averaged 91 m.ph. and he had trouble locating it. He threw a bunch of change-ups and they were for strikes. But he was smacked around by the Diamondbacks.

One scout had Oswalt between 88 and 90 m.p.h. for most of the night Thursday. He topped out at 92. That's discouraging because Oswalt typically averages 93 m.p.h. on his fastball.

"You can't expect that," the scout said, citing Oswalt's inactivity.

But the most troubling thing is that Oswalt's fastball lacked life before the layoff. Is it the back? Is it rust? None of the above?

We don't know yet, but barring significant progress, it's hard to see Oswalt starting in St. Louis on Tuesday.

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