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Moehler draws hope from playoff first-timers

Moehler draws hope from playoff first-timers

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HOUSTON -- Watching players like Mike Sweeney, Michael Young and Aubrey Huff finally get a taste of the playoffs this year after each had amassed around 1,500 regular-season games in the Major Leagues was bittersweet for Brian Moehler.

Last year, those players were in the same position as Moehler is now, wondering if they'll ever get a chance to pop a cork in October and play on baseball's brightest stage. Sweeney (Phillies), Young (Rangers) and Huff (Giants) finally earned their postseason stripes, giving Moehler hope he will be next.

Among active pitchers, Moehler has thrown the second-most career innings without reaching the playoffs. Jamey Wright has 1,760 1/3 innings and has no playoff appearances, with Moehler having thrown 1,567 1/3 innings in the regular season.

"It was fun to watch guys who had never been before," he said. "It's good to see guys like that get an opportunity. Am I jealous? Yeah, I'm jealous. I'd love the opportunity to go just one time."

Moehler has spent the previous four seasons with the Astros and is currently a free agent. The Astros haven't ruled out bringing him back next season, and Moehler is working out hard in the offseason and preparing as if he's going to return for a 15th season.

"I'm interested in coming back to Houston," Moehler said. "I plan on playing next year. I feel great. I'm running and doing everything I've done before. I'm throwing a little bit right now. There's nothing I can't do."

Moehler, 38, went 1-4 with a 4.92 ERA in 20 games (eight starts) for the Astros last season. He missed the second half of the season with a right groin strain and on Sept. 1 underwent surgery on the lower abdomen and groin. He's fully recovered and ready to find a job for 2011.

"I'm not going to go just somewhere to play another season," he said. "Obviously, there are teams out there that are rebuilding and teams on the cusp of going to the playoffs. I'm not going to go to a team that doesn't have a good chance to go to the playoffs. That's the only reason I'm playing."

Moehler's work ethic has been unparalleled during his time in Houston, and he provided a veteran influence on an Astros team that got dramatically younger last year. He's 84-107 with a 4.81 ERA in a career that has included stops in Detroit, Cincinnati, Houston and Florida.

If he does find a job for next year, Moehler might have to earn a roster spot in Spring Training, but he can be a valuable commodity to a team because of his flexibility to start or pitch in relief. The Astros could again be a fit, and Moehler believes they have a shot to contend.

The Astros overcame a 17-34 start last season and went 59-52 after June 1, which was the second-best record in the National League Central during that span. The club has already beefed up its offense by adding Clint Barmes and is expected to make a handful of more moves before the season to get better.

"With the way we played in the second half, and you look at Carlos Lee and how he swung the bat like he's capable, you saw what happened," Moehler said. "The pitching was extremely good. I'm sure this winter [general manager] Ed [Wade] is going to keep his ear to the ground and see what happens with trades and picking up free agents.

"In that division, I think St. Louis is going to be competitive again, and Cincinnati as well, but I think Houston has a definite chance to make some noise."

And if the Astros do find their way into the postseason, Moehler doesn't want to be left watching on TV.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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