Oswalt eyes record despite trade rumors
Right-hander is one win shy from tying Astros' all-time mark
HOUSTON -- Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt is in a strange place indeed. He's one victory shy of tying Joe Niekro's franchise record of 144 wins, but understands he might not get a chance to break the record if the Astros grant his wish and trade him in the next 10 days.
Even though Oswalt requested a trade to a contender two months ago, getting his name atop the Astros' record book means a lot to him. So much so that he asked manager Brad Mills to juggle the rotation coming out of the All-Star break so he'd have two chances to break the record at home prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Oswalt lost his first start following the All-Star break when he lasted only four innings Sunday in Pittsburgh after taking a line drive off his ankle, but he'll return to the mound Saturday at Minute Maid Park against the Cincinnati Reds with a chance to tie the record.
"It would be nice, since we're coming down to the wire," Oswalt said. "You never know what's going to happen. I may have two more months to get it. You never know. Right now, it's two starts and we'll see. You take them one at a time."
Oswalt is one of the most coveted players on the market as the Trade Deadline approaches, and he's been the subject of heavy speculation the last two days, with the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals showing a strong interest in acquiring the two-time 20-game winner.
Oswalt, 32, is having a terrific season, going 6-11 with a 3.12 ERA in 19 starts (his record reflects poor run support). He's due to make $16 million next season in the last year of his contract, but there's a club option for 2012 that would pay him another $16 million -- an option which appears to have become a point of contention in trade talks.
Considering he has a full no-trade clause, Oswalt would have to approve any deal the Astros make, and he's told his agent, Bob Garber, to call him when there's something on the table. Oswalt told reporters earlier this week in Chicago he hasn't been informed of any potential deals.
For now, his focus is squarely on Niekro's record, which has stood for 25 years for a franchise that has featured pitching superstars in Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott, who won the 1986 Cy Young Award in Houston. On Saturday, Oswalt will try to tie the record against a Reds team he's dominated in his career, going 23-2.
"I'm going to take the next start and whatever happens, happens," Oswalt said. "If I don't win that one, I'll try to win the second and see if I can tie it. I may not win either one."
Mills had originally scheduled Oswalt to start the first game following the All-Star break, but he moved him to third in the rotation at the request of the right-hander. That allowed him to make his final two starts of July at home.
"We looked at it pretty extensively, and there was quite a back and forth going on, not really argumentative on either side, but we wanted to make sure we had everything covered," Mills said. "You thought it might work out in our favor to do is this way, and if that's the way he feels the most comfortable, let's do it."
Oswalt has a .753 winning percentage in the second half in his career, which is far batter than the .557 winning percentage he's had in first halves. He's 2-8 with a 3.48 ERA at home this year and 4-3 with a 2.61 ERA on the road.
Oswalt said his parents would likely make the drive from his hometown in Weir, Miss., if he has a chance to break Niekro's record. If he beats the Reds on Saturday and ties it, he would go for win No. 145, likely July 30 against the Brewers at Minute Maid Park.
That's assuming he's still with the Astros.
"It would be nice to break it at home," Oswalt said.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.