Thomas "Texas" Oldham (Photo/Stephanie Sanchez)
SAN ANTONIO - It could not end fast enough. Thomas Oldham stood on the mound Thursday evening and let out a frustrated breath of air. Seven Midland hitters into the second inning, things were not looking up for the Missions’ unofficial new ace. A walk here, a home run there – even a dropped fly ball in left field that amounted to two unearned runs. The scene was definitely foreign to the 23-year-old southpaw, who had previously run off six consecutive winning decisions and three quality starts.
As the fading sunlight slowly escaped the abnormal wind conditions of the night (which were in part to blame for the error in left), so too did Oldham break free, from the torture of a 4-run, 49-pitch frame.
Considering the fact that Oldham prides himself on consistency, it is easy to guess that the 9-game winner was a tad bit disappointed, to say the least, with just a 4-inning performance that segued into a 6-2 Missions loss.
“I think I was just trying to be too fine,” Oldham said. “I was trying to attack the corner instead of pounding the zone early on. Midland has a bunch of good hitters, and when you have to throw a good hitter his pitch, he’s going to take advantage of it.”
San Antonio cannot afford many more such outings from Oldham (9-6, 3.42 ERA), the team’s only starting pitcher above .500 now that Bobby Livingston has been promoted to Tacoma.
In all, however, a closer look reveals Oldham’s last performance (two earned runs) was not as pedestrian as one might think. Had Jaime Bubela made the play in left field, his pitch count would have been drastically lower, enabling him to pitch later into the game.
“Errors are going to happen,” Oldham said. “You can’t worry about one pitch or one mistake. That takes your focus away from the task at hand – executing the next pitch.”
Even before Livingston’s departure, Oldham was starting to catch fire, now 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA over his last three starts. He began the second half with a 4-5 record but has since ascended to sixth in the Texas League in victories. The New England-native ranks the same in strikeouts, with 84.
“He’s got the stuff to pitch in the big leagues right now,” said a Texas League scout. “He can win up there. He’s made so much improvement since the start of the season.”
Oldham credits part of that improvement to Livingston, his friend and teammate during parts of two seasons. The two control pitchers of a similar mold have continued to keep in touch even with Livingston’s move to the Rainiers.
“I just admired his consistency,” Oldham said. “Bobby could always throw any pitch he wanted to, at any time. That’s what I try to do – stay with my plan each and every pitch.”
Oldham, who lives off his off-speed material, said another key to his turnaround this half is a larger reliance on an 88 mph fastball.
“During the season, I’ve learned to pitch more off my fastball,” Oldham said. “I’ve also upped my arm speed, and just know better how to pitch to different hitters.”
This newfound knowledge and maturity has led to Oldham’s ascension in the Texas League ranks, much to the benefit of San Antonio manager Dave Brundage. With Juan Sandoval’s struggles of late, Oldham has been the saving grace for a make-shift rotation and ever-changing bullpen. Matters got worse Friday night, when new starter Jared Thomas, Livingston’s replacement, left the game following a Midland line drive to his elbow. The team is waiting for the swelling to go down before having an x-ray done this week.
“Oldham’s thrown well for us all season,” said Brundage. “Every outing he’s getting valuable experience, and (Thursday night) was no different.”
Even with Oldham’s emergence this half, the only people the “ace” term means anything to are the fans, experts and, well, the media. Not Oldham.
“We’ve got five quality starters and six to seven guys in the bullpen that can get the job done,” Oldham said. “It’s just a 5-day rotation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the first of fifth starter – you’ve still got a job to do.”
If you have any questions for Oldham, send them his way via email at email@example.com. He'll be glad to answer them in his bi-monthly online journal at InsidethePark.com.