WASHINGTON - Roy Oswalt's response seemed to catch the questioner by surprise. After the Phillies' 2-1 loss to the Nationals yesterday afternoon, the veteran righthander was asked whether he expected to be taken out of the game for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning. After all, the Phillies had the bases loaded with two outs and were trailing by a run in a game in which the only offense they had managed to muster was an unearned run.
"No," Oswalt said flatly. "That's their decision. I had 79 pitches."
It's hard to argue that Charlie Manuel made anything other than the logical move when he sent Domonic Brown to bat in that situation, prompting Oswalt to trudge back from the on-deck circle. Only a remarkable diving catch by Nationals leftfielder Laynce Nix prevented a go-ahead base hit from landing in the gap in left-center. Regardless, rookie relievers Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo went on to log three scoreless innings.
So no harm, no foul, right?
"That's just their decision," Oswalt said when asked whether he lobbied to stay in the game. "He's the manager of the team. You don't really question that. That's the first time I've been taken out after 79 pitches without being hurt."
Oswalt was removed from a start in Arizona on April 26 after 57 pitches, but both he and the Phillies said later it was not because he was injured. The next day, he left the team to be with his family in tornado-ravaged Mississippi, returning 8 days later, only to hit the disabled list with a back strain.
It has been an interesting season for Oswalt.
He has thrown more than 96 pitches only once - a victory at San Diego on April 21 - but has allowed fewer than three runs in eight of his nine starts. Take away his ugly outing against the Diamondbacks on April 26 and he has allowed only 10 earned runs in 47 innings. Even with yesterday's loss, which dropped him to 3-3, Oswalt's ERA sat at 2.70.
Still, Manuel didn't feel as if he had much of a choice other than to pull Oswalt yesterday. And it's hard to blame him.
"I felt like that might be the last chance we have," Manuel said.
Turns out, he was right.
Despite Domonic Brown's current hot streak, Charlie Manuel stuck to his guns yesterday and kept the kid on the bench against Nationals lefty John Lannan. The reasoning he outlined afterward made sense: He wants to be patient with Brown and give him the best chance to succeed, and throwing him into hot water against big-league lefties is not the best way he thinks it should be done. Brown entered yesterday with one hit and six strikeouts in 16 big-league at-bats against southpaws. The Phillies also are projected to face just two lefty starters in their next 15 games, meaning a lack of opportunities for a player like Ben Francisco to get at-bats.
While Brown's overall numbers at this point are far better than they were at the same time last year, they really aren't a heck of a lot better against righthanded pitching than they were at this point last season.
Below are his first 31 plate appearances against righties this season and last season:
2010: 10/28 (.357), 4 XBH, 2 HR, 2 Sac Flies, 1 BB, 11 SO
2011: 11/27 (.407), 5 XBH, 1 HR, 1 Sac Flies, 3 BB, 2 SO
The only significant difference lies in his plate discipline. This year, he has struck out twice while walking three times. Last year, he struck out 11 times while walking once.
That said, Manuel fully intends on playing Brown everyday at some point. Just not yet.
"We didn't bring Domonic up to sit him on the bench," Manuel said.
Said Brown: "I think I'm ready for anything . . . Whatever Charlie wants me to do, I'm going to do."
Shane Victorino played in his final rehab game yesterday and is expected to be activated before tomorrow's game in Pittsburgh.