Oswalt and Opening Day go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
Judging from my conversations with people who closely follow the Astros, I clearly was one of the few who thought Wandy Rodriguez might be awarded the Opening Day start this year.
I was basing this solely on conclusions I drew from past years. When I got here in 1997, Shane Reynolds was in the midst of what would be a five-year stretch of consecutive Opening Day starts. He made his first in 1996 and his last in 2000, after which he was unseated by a young Scott Elarton.
The decision to start Elarton in ’01 was based solely on his performance in 2000. He won 17 games in a terrible season for the team, while Reynolds pitched only about a half-season until back problems shut him down.
That call by Larry Dierker made perfect sense, assuming he was awarding the Opening Day start to the pitcher who most deserved it, based on the prior season.
In ’02, Wade Miller got the Opening Day nod. Again, Miller’s ’01 season was better than any of his rotation mates by a large margin. He was 16-8 with a 3.40 ERA and proved himself a workhorse, piling up 212 innings.
That was the last time someone not named Roy Oswalt started on Opening Day for the Astros. Oswalt will pitch his club-record eighth opener on April 5, and I admit, there’s something that just feels right about that.
But a couple of months ago when we were still deep in the offseason, I just assumed Rodriguez would be in line to start the opener. Every Opening Day starter over the 13 years I’ve been around this team got that start based on his performance the prior year, so why not this time? Wandy led the team with 14 wins and had an ERA of 3.02 and was named the club’s Pitcher of the Year. Roy was sidelined for a spell with back problems and compiled just eight wins (a number that could partially be explained by the record-setting 16 no-decisions he received.)
I figured the only thing that might prevent Wandy from receiving the Opening Day start was the fact that he’s left-handed, and managers generally like to put their lefties in between right-handers instead of have them at the top of the rotation.
Turns out, Wandy will fall in line after Oswalt, but not necessarily because of the lefty-righty theory. Simply put, Oswalt has been the ace of this staff for nearly a decade and that means a lot to the organization. It specifically carries a lot of weight with manager Brad Mills, and as long as Oswalt showed he was healthy this spring and stayed on schedule without any setbacks, Mills had no doubt about who would start Opening Day.
When Mills reset the rotation after the off day earlier this week, he flip-flopped Roy and Wandy so that Roy would be on schedule to start April 5.
I like the decision. It’ll be Oswalt vs. Tim Lincecum on Opening Day, and anything else just wouldn’t have felt right. I just wonder why it took me longer than everyone else to realize it.
Images from a busy day in Kissimmee on Saturday (it’s always slightly chaotic when the Yankees come to town):
Coach Biggio hits fungos during morning drills:
Carlos Lee,Pedro Feliz during batting practice.
Felipe Paulino and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.
Oswalt and Berkman during the anthem.
View from above…record crowd for Astros vs. Yankees.
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