Maybe the biggest reason Roger Clemens delayed his return to the majors was so he could be fresh late in the season, and hopefully into the playoffs.
The Houston Astros hope the All-Star break further refreshed him.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner goes for his second win in his fifth start since returning to the Astros when they face the Florida Marlins on Friday.
Clemens (1-2, 2.82 ERA) pitched in last year’s midsummer classic, but was not part of this season’s All-Star festivities and was able to stay on his regular routine.
He allowed four runs—two earned—and six hits in six innings of last Saturday’s 7-6, 10-inning loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’ll have some time during the break to make more adjustments, continue to work hard and get stronger each time out,” said Clemens, who had won his previous start with five solid innings against the Chicago Cubs.
Clemens suffered injury problems late in the 2005 season, and manager Phil Garner thinks an abbreviated season could be helpful to the 43-year-old right-hander.
“I think the benefit is he should be stronger in the last few weeks of the season than what he was last year,” Garner said. “He was pitching hurt last year. His leg and back were really bothering him. I’m hopeful that this will work out to be a good deal, that he can avoid the wear and tear of the full season. Maybe playing a half-season will be just about right for him.”
Clemens is 5-0 with a 2.72 career ERA in seven regular-season starts against the Marlins. He won both of his outings against them last season, allowing one run while striking out 10 in 13 1-3 innings.
He has 342 career wins entering Friday’s start.
Clemens notched the first of those victories in 1984, the year his counterpart on Friday was born. Florida’s Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 6.60), a 22-year-old right-hander, makes his fourth major league start while Clemens makes his 676th.
Sanchez won his big league debut with 5 2-3 scoreless innings against the Yankees on June 25, but has pitched poorly in his last two starts. He’s given up 12 runs, 14 hits and seven walks in his last 9 1-3 innings.
One of the problems Clemens has consistently faced since joining Houston (44-46) is a lack of run support. The team failed to score during his first 11 1-3 innings this season after being shut out nine times in games Clemens started last year.
The Astros recently got him some help in that area, acquiring power hitter Aubrey Huff from Tampa Bay on Wednesday. Clemens can only hope Huff’s second game in a Houston uniform goes as well as the first.
Huff hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning of his debut, lifting the Astros to a 5-1 victory over Florida on Thursday.
“Any time you get to a new team, it’s good to get in there and contribute,” said Huff, who went 2-for-4.
After a slow start to the season, Huff hit .359 in June and is 16-for-40 (.400) this month. He’s hit safely in 21 of his last 24 games, with six homers and 19 RBIs in that span.
“He’s a good hitter,” Garner said. “We know that and he showed us that.”
Huff started at third base in place of Morgan Ensberg, who went on the 15-day disabled list Thursday due to a bruised right shoulder. Ensberg was hitting .236 with 19 homers and 44 RBIs, though he had only one homer since originally hurting the shoulder on June 9.
The Marlins (38-49) are 3-7 this month, already equaling the number of losses they had in June.