Oswalt motivated to prove he's still elite

Oswalt motivated to prove he's still elite

Oswalt motivated to prove he's still elite
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It seems impossible, but Roy Oswalt still feels like he has something to prove.

It is surprising to hear that. He was a two-time 20-game winner with the Houston Astros, earned National League Championship Series MVP honors in 2005 and finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting five times. He also won 143 games with the Astros, one short of tying Joe Niekro for the franchise record.

He accomplished all those things, but he still feels motivated this season to show people he remains one of the best pitchers in baseball.

"Sometimes you get with a team for nine or 10 years and you get in kind of a rut, I guess you could say," Oswalt said after pitching two innings Wednesday against the Baltimore Orioles in his Grapefruit League debut at Bright House Field. "You come over here and you've got the guys that we have on our pitching staff, and you're trying to keep up."

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Oswalt said early last year that some people considered him washed up. He then went 7-1 with a 1.72 ERA in 13 appearances (12 starts) with the Phillies, who acquired him last July.

"I was drafted in the 23rd round," Oswalt said. "There have been questions since then, so it's nothing new to me. Just keep going out there, throwing up numbers, and maybe they'll believe one day down the line."

Oswalt said he feels rejuvenated since he joined the Phillies, and he is looking forward to 2011 with a rotation that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. Oswalt, who allowed two hits and one run in two innings Wednesday, is scheduled to make his regular-season debut April 3 against the Astros at Citizens Bank Park.

Oswalt and Lee have gone fishing a few times while both of their families are spending the majority of Spring Training back home.

They first met in 2003 in a waiting room following surgery in Philadelphia. Oswalt was in to have groin surgery. Lee was in to have hernia surgery.

"We were so drugged up coming out of anesthesia," Oswalt said. "I remember a guy being in there with me, but I didn't know it was him at the time. He told me that he remembered me and my name. I remember he pitched for Cleveland. I never remembered his name. I remember just leaving. When I woke up, I felt like I could leave the hospital, so I told the doctor I felt great. I walked out. He was going to walk out, too, and he stood up and said, 'No, I think I'm going to stay here.' So I left. We talked [for about] an hour or two. That's the first time I ever met him. I didn't know that until I came back here."

Said Lee: "That was the only time I talked to him. I knew he was from Mississippi. I knew he was a redneck, so I figured I'd get along with him."

But while it is fun to say Oswalt will pick up things from Lee and the other starters while they bond this spring, everybody is different. They can talk pitching. They can talk strategy. But they're not going to completely transform one another, either.

"You're your own player," Oswalt said. "These guys do stuff differently than I do, and I do stuff differently than they do. I think you have to be your own person. I'm not going to go out there and turn into a sinker/cutter guy like Halladay. I don't throw that way. You can learn a few things here and there -- the way they go about different hitters before you go out there. But it's [such a] different style of pitching with Cole and Cliff being left-handed, and Doc and Joe throw different than I do. You kind of have to be your own man."

Oswalt is a man with something to prove this year, but in the meantime, he's going fishing with Lee.

"It's been fun," Oswalt said. "The whole starting staff -- you're a team inside of a team pretty much. When you get five guys on a team that like being around each other, it makes it even easier. We've got great guys on our staff. We mess around with each other all the time. One guy's got to pitch, and you feel like you're missing out what's going on on the bench. It's fun."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.