Much like the old gray mare, Roy Oswalt isn’t what he used to be. That doesn’t mean the 35-year-old right-hander is ready to be put out to pasture. He can still be an effective pitcher, he simply can’t be ridden as hard as he was from 2001-2010. During that period, Oswalt was a 200-innings-a-year workhorse who twice won 20 games, captured an ERA title, and represented the Astros three times in the All-Star Game.
Now a member of the Texas Rangers, Oswalt finds himself working out of the bullpen as well as the rotation. In 12 games, he has a record of 4-2 and a 5.85 ERA that is well above his career mark of 3.28.
Oswalt talked about his evolution as a pitcher when the Rangers visited Fenway Park in August.
Roy Oswalt: “When I first started out, I had four pitches, like I do now. My main two pitches were my fastball and my curveball. I probably threw 75 percent fastballs, 20 percent curveballs, and mixed in a slider and changeup. Later, in 2009 and 2010, I started throwing a changeup a lot more. I finally learned how to actually throw it the right way, I guess you might say.
“When I first started throwing it, I never really had the right feeling of the ball coming off my index finger. No one ever explained it, they just said to throw it like a fastball. Well, the way I throw a fastball versus another way a guy throws a fastball can be totally different. A lot of guys think about being on top of the ball; I think about staying behind it. When they explained to throw a changeup like a fastball, I was staying behind it instead of on top of it. I never really got the concept of it until probably 2010.
“The grip is somewhere between a fosh and a circle change. Everyone has a little different way of throwing it. Some guys throw a circle and some guys throw a fosh, and I kind of modified it. When I threw a circle changeup, I kind of threw it too hard. Throwing a fosh, I didn’t quite have the location that I wanted. I kind of modified between the two.
“Velocity has been a big part of what I do. When I first came up, my velocity was mid 90s and it would sit there for most of the game, through 100 pitches. I could get away with some pitches in the middle of the strike zone. Now, I have to be a little finer on the edges. Having a changeup also allows me to not throw as hard and still get productive outs.
“I think that a lot of guys get away from the fastball, especially in the American League. In the National League, you get to see first hand how hard it is to square up a 92-93 mph fastball that’s moving around. In the American League, you only get to see it from the mound. My career kind of turned for the better when I got to Double-A and started hitting. In high school, you face a lot of guys who thrown 70-75 mph with that middle-in fastball. Once you get in the big leagues, that middle-in fastball is sinking down toward you, and is a lot harder to hit at 95 than it was at 75.
“Something I benefit from is… I talk to hitters here and there, and ask them what they see when they face me. Every one of them says that the ball looks low when it’s a strike. I’ve had the ability to throw the ball at the bottom of the zone and have it carry the last five feet. The pitch would normally be low, but my ball starts carrying and stays on a sustained plane. Everyone always complains — ‘that ball is low’ — but then you go back and look at the tape, and it’s right there. My catchers tell me, and the hitters tell me, that the ball stays true flight the last five or six feet.
“I’ve gotten a lot of strikeouts working up and out of the zone. It’s often the best pitch for me to throw to a guy who is sitting on a fastball. If I throw it high, a lot of times he’ll swing and not catch up to it. Same thing with a curveball. He’s sitting on it, and I throw it short. He sees it coming out of my hand and figures that he guessed right, so he reaches for it.
“I throw both a curveball and a slider. The good thing about having two breaking pitches is that if one‘s not on, you can go to the other. If the slider’s not working that night, you can go to your curveball, or the other way around. I started throwing both for that reason. You’re not going to have every pitch working every night.
“The difference between the two is that one is really slow and the other is harder. My curveball goes from the low 60s to 70 and my slider is 80 to 85. A good thing about my curveball is that even if I don’t have the snap on it — and often I don’t — the speed difference usually gets them. I’m going from 93 to 70, or even 63, so it might be a 30-mph difference.
“I probably had my best curveball early in my career. I felt like I could actually tell them it was coming and they still couldn’t hit it. Later, after they learned me — and the speed difference — it became a little different. My velocity isn’t 97 anymore. It’s 93, so they have a little more time to react. But early in my career — probably the first five years — I could go to it any time and felt that I could get anybody out with it.
“I’ve been pretty satisfied with my career, at least up to now. My goal was to get up here and have 10 productive years, and I feel like I’ve had that. I’ve done some things that I couldn’t have imagined, growing up. Even so, I’ve started for 12 years. That’s still what I want to do.”