KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Team USA should feel pretty good about putting Roy Oswalt on the mound in the World Baseball Classic.
He looks ready right now.
Oswalt was sharp Thursday in his first outing of the spring for the Houston Astros, picking up right where he left off last season when he won 10 of 13 starts after the All-Star break.
Oswalt allowed just one hit in three innings against the Atlanta Braves, who were encouraged by the debut of top prospect Tommy Hanson and won 8-7 on an RBI double by non-roster catcher J.C. Boscan in the eighth.
“He was vintage Roy,” marveled Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who struck out twice against Oswalt but will soon be his teammate on the U.S. squad. “He looked good, actually great. I was happy for him, and it was good for the (American) team, but it would have been nice to face somebody else today.”
Oswalt made one bad pitch — a fastball left over the plate — that Braves catcher David Ross hit for a two-run homer. Otherwise, the right-hander was better than expected for this time of spring.
He struck out the side in the first. The next inning, Oswalt plunked shortstop Yunel Escobar with a pitch, then served up the fat pitch to Ross. After that, most of the outs came on weak grounders and popups.
“Today was good for me,” said Oswalt, who threw 53 pitches, 34 for strikes. “I left that one pitch over the plate because I was a little nervous about hitting two guys in a row. Other than that, I felt good. I’m way ahead of last year. I’m ready to pitch.”
Oswalt again will anchor the Astros staff, expecting to make his seventh consecutive opening day start for the franchise. He has been the model of consistency, winning more games (129) than anyone in the majors since 2001.
After losing his first three games last year, he finished with a 17-10 record, the seventh time in his eight seasons he’s reached at least 14 wins. The prospect of pitching for Team USA was a big reason he wanted a strong performance on Thursday.
“I’m ahead of my normal pace because I wanted to be ready (for the WBC). And I should be ahead of the hitters now. It’s early for the hitters, and they haven’t seen much live pitching yet,” Oswalt said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish a season. I hope (last season) just carries over.”
The Braves are hoping for big things from Hanson, the 22-year-old right-hander who was MVP of the Arizona Fall League — the first pitcher to capture that honor.
He doesn’t look quite ready to pitch in the majors after allowing two hits and two runs in his first appearance for the big league team, but a fastball clocked as high as 99 mph caught everyone’s attention. Hanson struck out two.
“He’s one of the best prospects I’ve seen come through here,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “I was impressed. He looked outstanding. He has the talent, and he’s also got a good head on his shoulders.”
Braves starter Jorge Campillo had a rough first outing of the spring, allowing five hits and three earned runs in two innings.
He made 25 starts last season (8-7, 4.34 ERA), but is slated for a long-relief role in 2009.