Clemens is scheduled to make his first appearance after a groin injury, and the Astros (71-74) look to take a step closer to the NL wild card when they welcome slugger Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies in the start of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Houston brought back Clemens (6-4, 2.27 ERA) specifically to help get them into the playoffs. He was cruising in his last start Sept. 4 against Philadelphia, but was forced to leave after five innings despite allowing one run and one hit with six strikeouts.
He failed to get the win and Houston lost 3-2 in 10 innings. Clemens missed his scheduled start Saturday against Milwaukee.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner has allowed two runs or fewer in 13 of his 15 starts this season—his 23rd in the majors.
“He’s pitching this way almost every game,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “The surprise is when he gives up a run. It’s amazing.”
Clemens is 2-0 with a 3.68 ERA in four career starts against Philadelphia. Both wins have come in Houston.
With 17 games remaining, Houston is sixth in the wild card standings, five games behind San Diego. The Astros also have a slim chance of winning the NL Central, but are six games behind first-place St. Louis.
“If you can’t play .500, you’re not in the pennant race,” Garner said. “We’ve got to be over .500. My point is, if we’re under .500, we’re not going to win. You don’t want anybody playing under .500 getting into the playoffs, because that, by definition, is mediocre.”
Philadelphia (74-72) fell 2 1/2 games behind San Diego in the wild card after a 4-1 loss to Atlanta on Thursday. Since winning five in a row from Aug. 19-23, the Phillies have failed four times to string together three straight victories.
“We could have stayed pretty good with them,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Win two, lost two, that don’t get it done.”
Howard continues to lead the majors with 56 homers, but has failed to hit one in five straight games. Since hitting his second homer off Scott Olsen in a 3-2 win over Florida on Sept. 8, Howard has been walked seven times—three intentionally—in five games.
He struck out three times in the loss to the Braves. Howard also hit his 53rd homer on Sept. 4 against Houston.
Since losing to Florida on July 28, Brett Myers (10-6, 4.05) has lost just one of eight starts. He’s failed to record decisions in his last two outings, including a 4-3 loss in 10 innings Saturday to the Marlins.
The right-hander allowed three runs—two earned—and nine hits over six innings. He’s 1-1 with a 4.39 ERA in four career starts against Houston.