In a tale of two slices of three-inning baseball, Corey Oswalt went from efficient to explosive, finishing his night with a quality start that seemed to have more potential in the early going. Oswalt allowed three runs on six hits and one walk, striking out just three. Nonetheless, his initial success was definitely overshadowed by both the final line and the end result in the Mets’ 4-3 extra-innings loss.
In his first start since manager Mickey Callaway mentioned the possibility that he participated in a six-man rotation through the rest of the season, Oswalt flew out of the gates with poise and intent. The righty retired his first six hitters on a combined 23 pitches (14 for strikes) and demonstrated great movement on both his changeup and fastball, which he deployed to strike out J.T. Realmuto and Brian Anderson (respectively) – two of the more established hitters in the Marlins’ lineup.
A variety of groundballs helped Oswalt navigate the first half of his start, but this is not to say he was bailed out by his defense. He retired his first two batters in the third inning on just four pitches, and despite allowing a base hit to opposing pitcher Dan Straily to prolong things, Oswalt buckled down and retired the next hitter on a 3-1 putout. Of the first ten batters to come up against Oswalt, nine were dealt first-pitch strikes. All in all, the righty has compiled a 4.01 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and .224/.244/.342 opponent slash-line between the first and third frames this year.
While the wheels never necessarily fell off the bus for Oswalt, they definitely stalled in the fourth inning. A dying quail hit from Starlin Castro to lead things off would have been erased on a 1-4-3 double play a minute later, but a miscommunication between Jeff McNeil and Amed Rosario hampered the relay and limited the Mets to a mere putout at the bag. From there, perennial thorn-in-side Derek Dietrich pulled off a hustle double, and veteran Martin Prado roped a base hit the other way to score two (he was tagged out in a rundown to end the inning). Even then, Oswalt remained ahead by a run and spent only 14 pitches in the inning.
Upon returning to the dugout, a visibly upset Oswalt consulted McNeil about the snafu that undeniably cost both him and the team. Nothing hostile came out of the conversation, and Oswalt understandably downplayed the situation after the game, but it’s certainly easy to understand how that frustration could have affected the next two innings, which weren’t much to write home about.
A one-out bunt hit from Magneuris Sierra seemed a distant concern after Oswalt struck out pinch-hitter Yadiel Rivera and clawed ahead of leadoff man Rafael Ortega 0-2. But Ortega would draw a walk to bring up Realmuto. One 2-0 fastball later, Sierra had scored the tying run on a single. Arguably a tougher slog than the prior frame, the fifth commanded 23 pitches, and Oswalt threw just 13 for strikes. Oswalt turned in a scoreless sixth, but not before hitting Prado with a wild sinker and getting bailed out on a splendid diving catch by Brandon Nimmo.
Regardless, Oswalt has now allowed three runs (or fewer) in each of his last six big-league starts. He has the 14th lowest hard-hit rate (26.3%) among 140 qualified starters over the past month. Considering the ambiguity surrounding an otherwise ordinary day at the office, it may be time to acknowledge that quality starts – however they come about – are a part of Oswalt’s game. In other words, it may be time to accept Oswalt as a viable cog in the Mets’ rotation.
“We’ve seen some very nice games for him,” said Callaway. “His stuff, the way he can keep the ball down when he’s going good, elevate when he needs to, the quality of his breaking pitches, the changeup, the deception that he has. He definitely has the makings of a guy that can pitch in the back end of a rotation and help a team out.”
Even if a seven-inning performance never comes naturally to Oswalt, he’s continued to show moxie in a Met uniform. A long-relief role akin to that of Seth Lugo could be a good fit given how he cruised through the first half of his start. In any case, there’s really no stock in hiding the 24-year old from a major league mound. Navigating middle-inning traffic and/or lousy circumstances can be a revealing test of a pitcher’s maturity. Oswalt passed yet again.