Corey Oswalt pitched in two games for the 2019 Mets, both in April. He was actually called up to the majors more often than that, making the trip from Triple-A Syracuse to Queens three separate times. It was a surprisingly little amount of time for a guy we here at Amazin’ Avenue had pegged as a decent candidate for spot starts this season.
Our own Maggie Wiggin called it a “near-guarantee that he’ll see at least a spot start or two this year in Queens” in her season preview. He didn’t even hit that bar, appearing in relief in his only two appearances.
But Maggie wasn’t off base with her assumption. Oswalt was a wholly-uninspiring yet fine six or seventh option in 2018. As a starter, his ERA was a reasonable-for-a-24-year old-non-prospect at 4.72 over 12 appearances. His season ERA is over a run higher at 5.85 because of five disastrous bullpen appearances.
So what happened in 2019? Well, for one, the Mets weren’t really in the market for too many spot starts. Only eight starts all season long were made by someone other than their main rotation: four for Walker Lockett, three for old friend Wilmer Font and one for Chris Flexen.
The other reason he didn’t see much action may have been some poor timing. For two of Lockett’s spot starts, he was on the IL or rehabbing an injury. And then, after the Mets called him up on May 6 following an injury to Jason Vargas, the Mets traded for Font, who had a history being used as an opener in Tampa Bay (and future as one in Toronto). Font went on to make three starts with both Vargas and Steven Matz out from May 8 to May 20. Oswalt, meanwhile, was sent back down on May 7, without throwing a single pitch (the reason he had one more call-up than appearances).
Oswalt didn’t break camp with the team but was called up on April 10. He appeared in relief of Vargas’ four-run, one-out stinker on April 13. Despite the Mets actually tying the game back up in the top of the second, Oswalt put the Mets right back in a four-run hole by having his own rough second inning. He finished with five earned runs over 3.2 innings and was sent down the next day.
He returned just 12 days later, on April 26, just in time for Jacob deGrom to have a rough third inning against the Braves, allowing five runs. Oswalt came in in the fifth with the Mets down 5-1 and managed to make it worse, giving up four in the fifth inning before pitching two more in self-imposed mop up duty. That was his final major league appearance of 2019.
In other words, he once again struggled as a reliever.
With those two unquestionably bad appearances, it’s not much of a surprise that he didn’t make it back to the majors to relieve games. However, he actually had a great year in Triple-A, when he was healthy at least.
In 16 appearances (all starts), he had just a 2.91 ERA, thanks in large part to re-discovering some control; he walked just 15 batters over 86.2 innings. That’s good for a 1.6 BB/9, his second-lowest in a season with double-digit starts for his career. While he only had 79 strikeouts, that’s never been his game much anyway.
With the Mets rarely in the need for spot starts and the Corey Oswalt, relief pitcher, experiment seemingly failed, it made sense for the Mets to keep him in Triple-A to hopefully keep improving at what now remains his only shot at being an impactful major leaguer: starting games. In fact, it may have actually been a smart move by an organization often lacking in, well, organization. With the Mets’ fifth starter situation currently a looming question, hopefully Oswalt will at least have the sixth starter position locked down in 2020.