Clemens thinks Astros ready to take next step

Clemens thinks Astros ready to take next step

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens joined Astros camp for three days beginning on Tuesday, taking time to talk to some the pitchers and assisting pitching coach Brent Strom in his morning meetings.

Clemens is a special assistant to general manager Jeff Luhnow and isn't as hands-on as he was a few years ago, when he'd throw on some spikes and toss batting practice on the back fields. Still, Clemens has plenty of knowledge to share in the early days of Spring Training.

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"It's always a lot of fun," Clemens said. "I know it was fun for me in my 24 years. You see a lot of guys with excitement. What I took away from the meeting today was a lot of excitement from the staff, from the front office, from the owner, Mr. [Jim] Crane. Jeff was fired up. They have every right to be. This is a pretty talented club over here and they're ready to take the next step."

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Clemens made it clear it was put up or shut up time for the Astros, who are picked by some to win the American League after losing in five games to the Royals in the AL Division Series last year. The additions of pitchers Doug Fister and Ken Giles have bolstered their staff and their hopes.

Clemens said some of the pitchers asked him about how to be a power pitcher instead of a power thrower, and he even discussed the split-fingered fastball, which was a great pitch for him in the second half of his career.

"Any time those guys ask pointed questions or Strommy wants me to talk to them, we'll visit with them," he said.

And, of course, Clemens is eager to see what kind of season awaits Dallas Keuchel, who became the first Astros player since Clemens (2004) to win the Cy Young Award when he took home the award last year in the AL.

"You need a guy that welcomes that challenge to be a front-line guy," Clemens said. "He's experienced that now. Like I called him after he won his Cy Young Award, 'Congratulations, take a deep breath and we have to do it all over again.' He's got capable guys on that mound to help them.

"There's six or seven guys here and you're going to see some guys competing. It's always good to have that competition in Spring Training and rooting for one another in the proper way -- don't try to make the team by someone else's failures; do it by earning your spot. When you come together as a team, you root for one another to be great."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.