- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

VIERA, Fla. — They were going to be the two aces of the Houston Astros’ pitching staff, a pair of young right-handers with cannons for arms and limitless potential.

But somewhere along the way, Roy Oswalt separated himself from Tim Redding. And some six years later, Oswalt is one of the major league’s premier pitchers while Redding is just trying to get back there.

“This is kind of a second coming for me,” he said.

Redding, now 29 and battling for a spot in the Washington Nationals’ rotation, appears to have a good chance of resurrecting his career and perhaps achieving the success he expected years ago. In a spring camp filled with unknown and unproven starting pitchers, Redding is perhaps the one guy who stands out, owner of both a solid track record and enough remaining potential to believe he could be on the verge of hitting it big.

He owns 21 major league victories in 101 career games, including 10 wins to go with a 3.68 ERA for the 2003 Astros. And his minor league numbers — 62-37 with a 3.74 ERA in parts of eight seasons — suggest he’s capable of succeeding on the mound.

“I am expecting good things out of him,” said Nationals manager Manny Acta, who knew Redding well from their days together in the Houston system. “I have never seen him fail. I am giving him all the confidence in the world. Hopefully, we can get the best out of him this time around.”

But why couldn’t the Astros (or the Padres or Yankees or White Sox, for that matter) get the best out of Redding before? He had the physical talent, including an upper-90s fastball, and the competitive drive to succeed.

“Somehow along the way, he got up here to the big leagues and his confidence got shaken up a little bit,” Acta said.

And that more than anything explains why Redding never became Oswalt’s companion ace in Houston and instead is battling to catch on with Washington.

In 2000 and 2001, Redding and Oswalt followed the same path through the Astros’ farm system, climbing the ladder together from Class A Kissimmee to Class AA Round Rock to Class AAA New Orleans. (Acta managed the Kissimmee club in 2000 and coached for New Orleans in 2001.) Oswalt posted impressive numbers during those two years, going a combined 17-10 with a 2.53 ERA. Redding was even better with a 28-8 record and 2.83 ERA that earned him a midseason promotion to the big leagues along with his fellow 6-foot right-hander.

But that’s when the two went their separate ways. Oswalt burst onto the scene in Houston, winning 14 games as a rookie, 19 the following year and posting back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2004 and 2005. Redding? He bounced back and forth between Houston and New Orleans for three years, was traded twice in 2005 (from the Astros to the Padres to the Yankees) and spent all of last season pitching for the White Sox’s Class AAA affiliate in Charlotte.

Redding’s undoing, he says now, was that he tried too hard to keep up with Oswalt instead of being content to go at his own pace.

“Roy has always had ‘it.’ He is a superstar, and he deserves to be,” Redding said. “I think I handled it all wrong. I was trying to be like him, and I lost sight of trying to be like me. And being me is what got me there in the first place.”

It didn’t help matters when Redding’s shoulder starting hurting because of some frayed cartilage, an injury he unsuccessfully tried to pitch through for more than a year. His arm in pain, his confidence shot, he finally decided to have minor surgery to repair the problem before the 2006 season.

Redding signed as a minor league free agent with the White Sox following the surgery, and perhaps because he could no longer uncork that fastball in the vicinity of triple digits, he finally learned how to pitch.

“I don’t throw 97, 98 anymore,” he said. “I’m throwing 92, maybe 94 for a high. But a well-located fastball at 92 is better than 98 right down the middle. I don’t think there’s any question I’m a better pitcher now.”

His numbers at Charlotte last season (12-10, 3.40 ERA) confirm it, and even if the White Sox never offered him a ticket back to the big leagues, Redding had regained something far more valuable.

“I had my confidence back,” he said. “I just knew going out there that I had a chance every time I had a ball in my hand.”

So here he is at Nationals camp, just another vaguely recognizable face among a sea of pitching hopefuls. Yet perhaps he’s the one guy who is most likely to emerge not only as a reliable major leaguer but even as the No. 2 starter he was supposed to be years ago — with a different ace at his side this time.

“John Patterson’s anchoring the staff, and he’s 29 years old,” Redding said. “I just turned 29, so it could be a situation where the two of us are together for the next five or six years and hopefully get this organization going in the right direction.”

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