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Oswalt searches for breaking balls in third start

FRISCO, Texas -- The third inning once again proved troublesome for Roy Oswalt.

The 34-year-old right-hander lasted 3 1/3 innings on Tuesday night for Double-A Frisco in his third Minor League start since signing a one-year deal with the Rangers. Oswalt allowed three runs -- all in the third inning -- on five hits while striking out three and walking one against the A's Midland affiliate in an eventual 5-4, 14-inning Frisco win. Oswalt threw 85 pitches, 32 of them in the third inning, and 55 for strikes.

"The breaking pitches weren't there tonight," Oswalt said. "I couldn't get my curveball over and my slider was a little bit flat. But the biggest thing was getting the pitch count up. I got up to [85] pitches a little quicker than I wanted to."

Following a bullpen session Thursday, Oswalt said that he plans on throwing around 100 pitches in his next start, which he believes will be with Triple-A Round Rock. He made his first two starts of the year with Round Rock. If Oswalt does make his next start with the Express, it would likely be in Sunday's series finale against Oklahoma City at the Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

"I figure I'll go one more," Oswalt said. "I need to get deeper in the game and get up and down the lineup a few times. Four innings isn't going to help the big league club out too much."

Oswalt retired five straight after issuing a leadoff walk in the first inning. He gave up a two-out double in the second but got out of the inning unscathed. For the second straight start, however, it was the third inning that Oswalt struggled to get through.

"I felt great. I felt strong," Oswalt said. "The stamina's there. I think, right now, it's just getting a feel of the breaking pitches a little better. But you never know, you could come out tomorrow and they'd feel great. It's one of those things. The good thing is that when you have two of them, one of usually works, but not tonight."

Last Thursday, in his second start with Triple-A Round Rock, Oswalt surrendered five runs and six hits, including a grand slam, all of them in the third inning, during a 7-2 loss to Omaha.

He began the third inning of Tuesday's game with two strikeouts, but the first hitter he fanned, Dusty Coleman, reached base on a wild pitch by Oswalt. Coleman went on to steal second base and score on a double from Leonardo Gil, who crossed home plate when Michael Choice doubled two batters later. Jeremy Barfield drove Choice in with an RBI single in the next at-bat to give Midland a 3-1 lead. By the end of the inning, Oswalt had thrown 75 pitches.

"I knew I was getting behind some hitters and it seemed like I was throwing five or six pitches to each guy, but I didn't know I had thrown that many that quick," Oswalt said. "I felt like I was rushing it a little bit tonight for some reason. In the first two starts, my mechanics were really good. This start, I felt like I was out front with my arm a little bit."

When Oswalt faced a bases-loaded jam with nobody out in his first Minor League start on June 2, he turned to his curveball to get him out of it. He struck out Albuquerque cleanup hitter Jeff Baisley on three strikes, the first two of them curveballs and the third a fastball. The next batter grounded out into an inning-ending double play. But Oswalt consistently bounced his curveball in the dirt Tuesday evening and also didn't feel good about his slider.

"In the first two games, I felt really good with [my breaking pitches]," Oswalt said. "This game, I kept hanging on to my curveball a little too long. I couldn't ever start it in the right position to make it break in there. My slider just didn't have the depth."

With three Rangers pitchers -- Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando -- currently on the disabled list, Oswalt would be a welcome addition to the big league rotation. But Oswalt doesn't want to rush his return to the big leagues and left open the possibility of additional Minor League starts after Sunday, which was originally meant to be his fourth and final start before joining the Rangers.

"I'm not going to rush there and not be ready when I get there," Oswalt said. "That's the one thing you can't predict during a season, injuries. They started the season with six starters. Now, they're down to three or four guys. I have to get myself ready to pitch there first. I'm not going to go out there and throw four or five innings and kill the bullpen."

Roy Oswalt