KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- During his first big league camp a year ago, right-hander Paul Clemens impressed just about everybody who watched him pitch. Pitching coach Doug Brocail was a huge fan, and veteran hurler Brett Myers was one of the players who took Clemens under his wing, keeping up with his progress all season in the Minor Leagues.
Clemens struggled in the Triple-A Oklahoma City rotation before ending the season at Double-A Corpus Christi, and he said he put some pressure on himself.
"I loved it because I knew there were guys in my corner," he said. "They saw the light at the end of the tunnel, but with me struggling, I didn't see that light. It kind of hurt me, because I wanted to be [in the Majors] so bad with the way Brocail, Myers, [David] Carpenter and [Bud] Norris and the guys took me under their wing. I kept pressing and pressing, which in turn kept digging me in a hole."
Clemens, acquired from the Braves in the Michael Bourn trade in 2011, has terrific stuff and is ready to put it all together this year.
"It was good to get an offseason and hit the reset button and come back fresh," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand real tight now. I feel great, and I'm right where I want to be physically and mentally."
Porter stresses need for flexibility on bench
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager Bo Porter talked roster composition Friday morning, saying he's planning to carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players when the 25-man roster is set. Porter said it's important to have flexibility on the bench.
With that in mind, and taking into the account the club's move to the American League, Porter said he feels it's more important to carry an extra position player than an extra pitcher.
"Eventually you're going to have one or two guys who are not going to be throwing, which is not going to be conducive to keeping them sharp," he said. "At the same time, you have to have flexibility in your everyday roster, because you have nine position players playing every day and you don't want to look over and have a short bench when it comes to matching up late in the game or doing things late in the game that can actually give you an advantage to put yourself in position to win the ballgame."
Porter has said previously he wants to carry two long relievers, and he'll probably have a pair of lefties. That leaves three spots in the bullpen, including closer Jose Veras. The roster doesn't have to be set for another month, so any roster speculation is premature.
"As the spring plays out, you'll start to look at your roster and start to think about balance," he said. "As a manager and as a coaching staff, it's our job to put these players in the best positions to play to their potential. A huge part of being able to do that is having a roster that gives you the flexibility and balance to put guys in position to be successful."
Astros swinging hot bats early in spring slate
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With pitchers often focusing on spotting their fastballs and changing speeds early during Spring Training, it's not uncommon for hitters to take advantage of the lack of breaking stuff being thrown.
Even so, Astros hitting coach John Mallee has been happy with way his club has swung the bat during the first week of spring games. Houston entered Friday's game against the Cardinals hitting .316 (77-for-244) as a team in seven games.
"I'm very pleased with that," Mallee said. "There's a lot of very good young, talented hitters. Early in the spring, the pitchers are trying to get their locations down and working on different pitches. Maybe in certain counts they wouldn't throw a certain pitch [in the regular season], but they're doing that here.
"I'm not going to say it's easier as a hitter, because the hitters, too, are trying to get their timing. I think it works back and forth. Later on, as we get into the spring, you'll see the pitchers will use more of the repertoire that they're going to use during the season and the approach of hitters is going to be the same. They're trying to get locked in and how they're going to approach a certain guy on a certain day."