JUPITER, FL - MARCH 14: Jed Lowrie #4 of the Houston Astros dives for a ball during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium on March 14, 2012 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Another starting pitcher named Clemens may be on the horizon for the Astros. It's young, rail-thin Paul Clemens, and not Roger, that I'm referencing. J.A. Happ was the starter against the Cardinals, and although his pitching performance was encouraging, young Mr. Clemens upstaged him. The Astros won 4-3 over the Cardinals. It's too easy to get overly excited about spring training performances, so I'm not trying to go over the top about Clemens. But we may have to accelerate our mental schedule for seeing Paul Clemens in the majors.
This wasn't a huge breakout on offense at the team level. The Astros scored 4 runs on 7 hits. The Astros racked up 4 walks, which isn't bad, and 8 strike outs, which isn't good. However, at the individual level, a couple of struggling Astros' players had a much needed breakout. Brian Bogusevic and Brett Wallace, both sitting far below the Mendoza line coming into this game, had big offensive performances. Wallace had two ground rule doubles and a RBI in 3 at bats, raising his batting average to a more respectable .278. Bogusevic went 2 for 4, with a double and single and scoring a run. However, even with the good offensive showing, Bogusevic's batting average didn't go over the Mendoza line. That gives you an idea how much he had been struggling at the plate. A hitter who has been a stand out so far this spring, Jed Lowrie, continued to hit, going 2 for 3 and raising his batting average to .333.
J.A. Happ pitched better than his line might indicate, 3 ER in 4IP. The encouraging aspect of Happ's performance: he had no walks, he threw strikes, kept the ball down, and he allowed no extra base hits. However, the Cards bunched 6 singles in the 3d inning, with most of the damage occurring with 2 outs. None of the hits in that inning were hard hit, with Happ experiencing the effect of well placed groundball hits and soft shallow flies that fell for hits. Given Happ's normal weaknesses, the performance is a good sign.
Clemens, the young RHP who came to the Astros in the Bourn trade, pitched 4 innings and gave up only 2 hits, with no walks and 6 strike outs. He closed out the game and got the old fashioned 4 inning save. Clemens used an electric fastball, in the 96 - 97 mph range, and a knee buckling curve ball which sometimes crossed the plate in the low 70's. Larry Dierker, who knows something about pitching, visited the radio booth, and had positive comments about Clemens. Dierker normally is unexcitable on the air, but he seemed to get charged up with Clemens' performance; after Clemens got out of a jam in the 8th with two strike outs, Dierker let out an excited, "That was fun!" Could we see Clemens in the majors this season? If he continues to pitch like this, I think so. Clemens has pitched in three spring games, and has yet to give up a run.
The Astros' defensive highlight was a throw by Bogusevic cutting down (Justice) John Jay, who was trying to stretch a single into a double. This saved Juan Abreu from giving up any runs in his inning on the mound. There is reason to believe that the defense was perhaps ragged at times, but the Astros committed no errors. Happ in the 3d, and Clemens in the 8th, may have had to deal with less than stellar defense.
The Astros' spring record stands at 7-4. It's nice to get a win over the World Series champion Cardinals, but keep in mind that their sluggers, Berkman and Beltran, didn't play in this game.