Recording career win No. 1 can be tough for any manager taking over a losing team. Roy Oswalt gives Cecil Cooper perhaps his best chance to get that first victory out of the way.
Coming off an 11-day layoff, Oswalt looks to win his sixth straight decision when he takes the mound for the Houston Astros in the middle game of their series with the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.
Oswalt (13-6, 3.33 ERA), who will be pitching on his 30th birthday, missed a start after straining his left oblique in a 3-2 win over San Diego on Aug. 18. The right-hander gave up two runs and five hits in 4 2-3 innings of a 3-2 win.
Houston (58-74) has gotten 17 wins this season when Oswalt starts, and has picked up a victory in each of the last six games its ace has pitched. Oswalt has been dominant during that stretch, going 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA.
He has also been outstanding in two starts against St. Louis (64-64) this season, posting a 1-0 record with a 1.13 ERA, including a complete-game win on April 7. Oswalt is 8-5 with a 3.07 ERA in 20 starts and one relief appearance in his career against the Cardinals.
Oswalt’s recent success and solid record against St. Louis bodes well for Cooper, whose team lost 7-0 to the Cardinals on Tuesday night in his Astros managerial debut. Cooper, who was Houston’s bench coach for three seasons, took over after Phil Garner was fired Monday.
Cooper also has a little more than a month to show why he should have the job next season.
“We have to play with more excitement, more fire,” Cooper said. “This is not a criticism of anyone, but we have been really flat, particularly in the last week or so, and we need to pick it up. Sometimes, you just look at the team in general and things are just not clicking.”
Unlike the Astros, the Cardinals have been able to rebound after a poor start to become a factor in the NL Central race. The defending World Series champions have won six of their last eight to get back to .500 for the first time since they were 6-6 on April 16, moving within two games of the first-place Chicago Cubs.
The Cardinals collected 16 hits Tuesday, with Chris Duncan snapping a 28-game homerless drought with a three-run shot in the first inning. He went 3-for-5 after hitting just .167 (9-for-54) with three RBIs in his previous 24 games.
“He has the potential to be an impact guy,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.
The Cardinals’ pitching, meanwhile, has sparked the team’s turnaround, posting a 2.53 ERA as St. Louis has won 13 of its last 18. St, Louis will now give the ball to Kip Wells (6-14, 5.41 ERA), who allowed seven runs - five earned - eight hits, and five walks in four innings of a 7-2 loss to Atlanta on Friday night.
Wells had given up three runs or less in five of his previous six starts.
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 6.61 ERA in three starts against the Astros this season, and 4-8 with a 5.34 ERA in 16 career starts against them.