KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Roy Oswalt will be counting innings more than victories this season. The Houston Astros' ace said Sunday that if he can make 35 starts and reach 200 innings, he'll consider 2010 a successful year.
Oswalt finished 2009 with a disappointing 8-6 record, a career-high 4.16 ERA and a franchise-record 16 no-decisions. He strained his lower back in July, then sat out the last two weeks of the season with a bulging disk.
Oswalt also grew frustrated when he felt like he was taking the brunt of the blame for the team's struggles, even when he pitched well. He allowed three runs or fewer in 19 of 30 starts, and took a loss or a no-decision in 12 of them.
"You can only do so much, you can only play as long as you can play, and that's all you can do," he said. "You get talked about a lot, but that's part of the game.
"Everybody's got an opinion," he said. "It's been like that all my life, so it doesn't really matter. I don't have anything to prove, just go out there and pitch, if I can stay on the field, that's the biggest thing."
The 32-year-old Oswalt said his back is healed and he's been re-energized by new manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who've brought a much-needed fresh approach to the clubhouse.
Now if only Oswalt can stay healthy.
Oswalt met with two back specialists and followed a daily off-season exercise regimen to re-strengthen his back muscles. He also got some extra time to recover and prepare for spring training, unlike last season, when he pitched in the World Baseball Classic.
If his back can hold up, Oswalt thinks he can put up similar numbers to 2004 and '05, when he helped Houston reach unprecedented post-season success. He made 35 starts and won 20 games in each of those seasons.
"I usually don't set goals," Oswalt said. "If I can start 35 games and feel good going out there, that's pretty much all I can ask for. It's all about being out there."
Mills, hired to replace the fired Cecil Cooper, said he has no reason to believe Oswalt can't regain his old form. He can't speak to what happened to Oswalt last season, and just wants his No. 1 starter to find his comfort level.
"He's a good pitcher, and he's going to be a good pitcher for a few more years, quite a few more years," Mills said. "There's no reason to think that he's not going to have an outstanding year. I haven't been here in the past, so I don't know exactly what's gone on, how he's performed. I look at numbers.
"I just want Roy to be Roy, and he'll be fine."
Oswalt, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez and first baseman Lance Berkman are the last holdovers from Houston's 2005 World Series team. Entering his 10th season, Oswalt leads the majors with 137 wins since 2001 and he's started the last seven season openers.
Despite the success, Oswalt said he won't hesitate to ask for guidance from Arnsberg, who coached current Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in Toronto. Arnsberg and Oswalt sat down for a meeting on Sunday morning.
"It doesn't matter where you are in your career," Oswalt said, "you can always learn something."
Arnsberg said he won't hold back telling Oswalt about techniques or routines employed by Halladay or other top pitchers he's coached. He wants to listen and learn from Oswalt, too.
"It's nice to be able to throw a name out there," Arnsberg said. "You can always go back and reflect and say, 'Well, this worked for this guy. What do you say we give it a try?' If we don't, well then we'll wash our hands of it and we'll go to the next stage or level. I've got to find different ways, too."
Oswalt is just eager to get the season started and see how the rejuvenanted energy in the clubhouse translates to the field.
"It is a little more exciting this year, new guys, new faces," he said. "The manager brings a lot of fire to the team and the new pitching coach is really excited about bringing in some new things he had in Toronto, with what he did with Halladay up there and some different guys. It should be fun."