HOUSTON -- Were this any other pitcher, the 5.61 ERA, the 103 baserunners in 69 innings and opponents batting .302 against him would be cause for concern.

But since these ugly statistics and 4-4 record belong to Astros ace Roy Oswalt, an All-Star each of the last three seasons and owner of a 3.19 career ERA, the Astros view the right-hander's current slump as nothing more than that.

"I'm not worried; obviously, we all hold Roy to a higher standard because of the track record," Astros general manager Ed Wade said before Friday's game against the Phillies. "I think it's expectation more than anything. When he goes out there, we expect certain things to happen, and so far this year, with the exception of a couple of outings, it hasn't happened.

"But that doesn't change our expectations, and it doesn't change our belief and faith that he's going to be the key guy for us for the remainder of the season. He needs to get a couple of good solid games under his belt and just let the momentum build from there."

Historically, Oswalt has been better in the second half of the season. Two years ago, his record in early July was only 6-7, but his ERA was 3.22 as he frequently fell victim to a lack of run support. He was at .500 early last May, but the ERA was 3.36.

"I haven't really got into a rhythm yet where I can carry it through four or five games in a row, [but] it'll come around," Oswalt said. "I've looked at film, I've made a few bad pitches here and there and that's a few pitches that got hit, no big difference."

The Astros have scrutinized Oswalt's performances and had him checked out physically. The velocity of his fastball is consistently in the low 90s. Nothing appears to be different other than Oswalt hasn't been his typically dominating self on a consistent basis.

"If it's physical, then you talk to your medical people, and it's not physical," Wade said. "If it's mechanical, then [pitching coach] Dewey Robinson goes cross-eyed looking at video, which he's been doing trying to see if there's a mechanical issue involved, and Dewey doesn't feel there is one. So it's just a case of going out there and continuing to have confidence in your No. 1 starter and give him the ball."

Part of the problem for any struggling starter is you can't keep running out to the bullpen to throw pitches in the hopes of discovering the cause.

"All you're doing is killing your arm for the next start," Oswalt said. "That's the thing about pitching, you can't do it like hitting. [With] hitting, you can go down to the cage and take like a thousand cuts, it really doesn't bother you the next day. With pitching, you can't do that to your body, you've got 200 innings to eat up."


"I haven't really got into a rhythm yet where I can carry it through four or five games in a row, [but] it'll come around."
-- Roy Oswalt

Oswalt has watched video with Robinson and so far those studies haven't uncovered any potential causes.

"I think the biggest thing is the breaking pitch is not there," Oswalt said. "And when you have to throw all fastballs a lot of guys, just sit fastball and not worry about the breaking pitches. Right now, if I miss a spot with the fastball, they're going to hit it."

Even so, Oswalt doesn't believe the cause of his curve going missing in action at times this season is related to mechanics.

"I don't know if it's mechanical; I think I've run into five ballgames out of 11 that I haven't pitched well," he said. "I'm not concerned about it."

Neither is Astros manager Cecil Cooper.

"I mean everybody struggles, even the Hall of Famers and big time superstars, they all struggle at some point in time," Cooper said. "Right now he's scuffling. Command I think is the biggest issue, not be able to locate his fastball on a consistent basis and not really having his breaking ball for the most part. Those are the crux of his problems and we've got to get him squared away."

Oswalt has allowed a Major League-high 15 home runs and 43 earned runs. The 85 hits he's allowed rank second in the Major Leagues, trailing only Minnesota's Livan Hernandez (90) entering play Friday.

"He just has not really been consistent, that's a big key," Cooper said. "If he's got his breaking ball, which he's only had a couple of times all year where he's been consistent, I don't care how hard you throw sometimes when you locate it they still hit it well."

The Astros have played well lately even with Oswalt's inconsistent production. He's carried this team before, Wade would like to see his teammates return the favor until Oswalt is Oswalt again.

"We need Roy Oswalt, we need Roy to be what he is, which is a premier pitcher in the game," Wade said. "The fact that he's struggled here recently obviously everybody wants to get concerned about it, but the reality is he's working at it. The bottom line is for us to be successful as we think we're capable of being, [so] we need our premier guys to play at that level, whether it's Roy or Lance or Miguel Tejada or Carlos Lee or Jose Valverde.

"We need the big boys to be big boys, and from time to time, guys are going to go into a trough and it's up to other people to pick them up. My belief is Roy's next time out he's probably going to pick somebody else up. The track record is there."