Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt came into this season as the leader of a patchwork starting rotation, but he’s still looking for his first win of the year. The veteran right-hander has to like his chances going into a series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Oswalt looks to improve to 24-1 lifetime against the Reds by winning his ninth straight start against them as the NL Central rivals open a four-game set Friday night in Houston.
Houston (3-6) expects a lot out of Oswalt in part because the rotation behind him consists of Wandy Rodriguez, journeyman Brian Moehler, injury-plagued Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz, who was out of baseball last season while recovering from surgery on his pitching arm.
Brandon Backe, 9-14 with a 6.05 ERA last season, will also be in the mix once he returns from a stint on disabled list due to a strained rib cage muscle.
Oswalt (0-2, 6.23 ERA) hasn’t delivered yet this season. He gave up three runs in seven innings of an opening-day loss to the Chicago Cubs before getting reached for six runs in six innings of an 11-2 defeat at St. Louis on Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter if I gave up the first run, I feel like I was trying to pitch for innings after that, instead of just pitching,” Oswalt told the Astros’ official Web site. “When you try to be perfect, you give up more runs than you normally do.”
Oswalt has been close to perfect in his career against the Reds (4-4). He’s 23-1 with a 2.47 ERA in 28 career games—26 starts—against them, including 8-0 with a 2.39 ERA in eight starts since he suffered his lone loss in Cincinnati on April 28, 2006.
Oswalt has held the Reds to one run in each of his last three outings against them.
That doesn’t bode well for Cincinnati, which is coming off a 9-3 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday. Reds outfielder Chris Dickerson tied the game with a two-run homer in the sixth before the Brewers answered with five runs in the bottom half of the inning.
“Nobody is real happy about that right now because we had a chance to sweep,” manager Dusty Baker told the team’s official Web site. “Now we have to go to Houston and start a new winning streak.”
That could be tough against a Houston team that won 12 of 15 meetings last season.
The Astros are also showing some signs of life after a dismal start to the season. After losing six of their first seven and totaling seven hits in getting shut out in consecutive contests Sunday and Monday, they’ve put together their first back-to-back wins of the season.
Lance Berkman hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the sixth inning to lift the Astros to a 6-3 victory at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“You get big swings from your big boys, you’ve got to make them stand up and we did,” manager Cecil Cooper said.
The Astros hope to continue their offensive resurgence versus Reds starter Johnny Cueto (0-1. 6.00), who gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings of a 10-2 loss to Pittsburgh in his season debut Saturday. He struck out nine.
The right-hander, in his second major league season, is 0-3 with a 7.84 ERA in four career starts against Houston—all Cincinnati losses.
Berkman, batting .219 on the season, is 4-for-8 with a home run and two doubles against Cueto.