Oswalt has a rocky debut against Nats

WASHINGTON - Roy Oswalt's flight from Houston arrived here at 11 p.m. Thursday.

He settled into the team hotel about two hours before the rest of the Phillies and went to bed knowing he would pitch Friday night in a pennant race for the first time since 2006.

He was excited, probably too excited, he said, after losing his Phillies debut, 8-1, at Nationals Park.

"It's hard to gain 30 games overnight," Oswalt said.

He spoke in hyperbole, but it had to feel that way, going from the fifth-place Astros to Philadelphia. But that's why the 32-year-old righthander waived his no-trade clause, to pitch in the playoffs again.

In his first start for the Phillies, Oswalt said, he let the previous 48 hours affect him. The Nationals tagged Oswalt for five runs (four earned) in six innings.

The Phillies lost for the first time in nine games.

"I came out a little amped up, holding the ball a little bit tight," Oswalt said. "I didn't really start feeling better until the last two innings, actually. It didn't really go my way."

The three-day whirlwind didn't help matters.

Friday was Oswalt's scheduled day to pitch and both manager Charlie Manuel and he said it was good to get the first one out of the way. But Oswalt's preparation changed drastically.

It's customary in baseball that the day's starting pitcher is not to be disrupted.

Most of the Phillies chose to honor that tradition even under unusual circumstances.

A few, like old friend Brad Lidge, chatted with Oswalt. Early in the morning, at the team hotel, Oswalt and his new catcher, Carlos Ruiz, went over signs.

At 6:39 p.m. Friday, Oswalt walked out of the visitors' dugout alone to a standing ovation from the many Phillies fans in attendance.

As he stepped onto the field, a lone cameraman knelt in front of the righthander and followed him to record his first moments in his gray Phillies uniform.

The first pitch he threw, a 93 m.p.h. sinker that didn't sink, was laced for a triple by Nyjer Morgan.

"I wanted to get the party started off right," Morgan said. Adam Kennedy grounded out to second and Oswalt was already trailing, 1-0.

Oswalt stayed away from his fastball and sinker Friday, and Manuel said he lacked fastball control. Oswalt normally throws those two pitches 55.5 percent of the time but against the Nationals, he used them in 39.5 percent of his 86 pitches. Instead, he relied more on his slider and curveball. Josh Willingham's two-run double in the fifth inning was off a slider that broke across the heart of the plate.

"I like his stuff," Manuel said. "He's going to be fine."

Before the game, Ruiz said he was excited to catch Oswalt, but acknowledged the challenges of immediately mastering his repertoire - especially when choosing which pitch to use in a key situation.

"It can be difficult," Ruiz said.

The best part, Ruiz said, is that eventually he can develop a great rapport with Oswalt, just as the catcher has done with Roy Halladay.

In so many ways Friday, time was not on Oswalt's side during his frenetic Phillies debut.

Oswalt was handed the proposed deal Wednesday night. He called Lidge, and the two talked about the city and the clubhouse. Oswalt shot down any notion he didn't want to come to Philadelphia.

"I really didn't have any" reservations, Oswalt said. "A lot of those reports were just made up. I heard so much stuff during the trade deadline that I said that I never said."

After saying goodbye to teammates in Houston, he flew to Washington where he waited. He met a Phillies team that was flat.

His teammates didn't hit and they made two errors behind him, too. After speaking to reporters, Manuel folded his lineup card and ripped it in half.

Down the hallway, Oswalt said he can take the next four days until his next start to get to know his teammates and become accustomed to everything new. (The weirdest thing, he said, were the red shoes.)

Eventually, he hopes, the last few days will be a fond memory.

Said Oswalt: "It was a rush for sure."

 


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at 215-854-2928 or mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/magelb.