Brocail returns to Astros

Brocail returns to Astros

HOUSTON -- Doug Brocail's 1996 Houston teammates have all moved on. The Astros play their games downtown at Minute Maid Park, not in the Astrodome. There's a new manager and a new general manager, and Brocail is 11 years older.

A lot has changed since Brocail last pitched for the Astros, but the right-hander is still just glad to be back home again after signing a one-year, $2.5 million contract plus incentives with Houston on Tuesday. The deal, which was announced by general manager Ed Wade, also includes a club option for 2009.

"I'm elated to be able to come home," Brocail said. "That was a big factor. I also think exciting things are happening with this team because I don't think they're done [improving]. When you look at the everyday lineup, especially the middle of the order, we have a chance to be a pretty good team."

Brocail, 40, appeared in 67 games for San Diego last season, compiling a 5-1 record with a 3.05 ERA. The veteran held all opposing hitters to a .228 average, while limiting left-handed hitters to a .182 clip, which ranked fifth among National League right-handed pitchers. His 67 games and 76 2/3 innings pitched were his highest totals in both categories since 1999 with Detroit (70 G, 82 IP). During the last two seasons with the Padres, Brocail compiled a 7-3 record with a 3.51 ERA in 92 games.

"It's easy when you have a setup man like [Heath] Bell and the best closer in the game in Trevor [Hoffman] to hand the ball off to," Brocail said. "I'm going to miss them, that was one heck of a bullpen. At the same time, I think we're going to have a good one here, too."

Of all the players who passed through the Houston clubhouse the last time Brocail was an Astro, only four others are still on a Major League roster: Bobby Abreu, Mike Hampton, Todd Jones and Billy Wagner. Brocail was one of a group of hard throwing young right-handers that year that included Darryl Kile, Shane Reynolds and Jones.

This time around, Brocail will be the elder statesman in a Houston bullpen that could open the season with only two other relievers older than 30 in Dave Borkowski, who turns 31 in February, and 31-year-old Geoff Geary.

Brocail has been a good fit in every clubhouse he's been in, a guy who leads by example on the field but also through force of character. A stand-up guy former teammates praise, Brocail has a track record as a hard-nosed competitor and clubhouse leader.

"We didn't talk about [Brocail's leadership abilities] but obviously, that comes with the package," Wade said. "His reputation in that regard and his character are well known and certainly factored into this decision."

Brocail said he hasn't been asked to mentor any of the youngsters on the staff but will do whatever he can to help the team.

"I'm not going to change," he said. "Doug Brocail is still going to be be Doug Brocail."

Also uncertain is what bullpen role manager Cecil Cooper has in mind for Brocail.

"That's to be determined," Wade said. "I joked with him that maybe he could come in and save 40 games this year, but seriously, once we get to Spring Training and he can get with [pitching coach] Dewey Robinson and Cecil, they'll work out how he'll be used."

Brocail said he can go two innings if need be or pitch multiple days in a row.

"My arm is resilient," he said. "And being older, I've learned you don't always have to try and beat them with your fastball."

Brocail missed the 2001-03 seasons after having multiple surgeries on his right elbow. He also underwent a pair of angioplasties in the spring of 2006 to remove a coronary blockage.

In his last seven seasons, a span of 426 innings, Brocail has allowed just 27 home runs, despite facing more than 1,800 batters. He was particularly effective in the seventh inning. Of the 20 times that San Diego manager Bud Black summoned Brocail to work the seventh, 17 times the right-hander held the opposition scoreless.

"Doug is a battle-tested, veteran reliever who will make our bullpen stronger," Wade said. "He's a great competitor and has shown the ability to pitch a lot while performing equally well against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. With the additions of Geoff Geary, Oscar Villarreal and Doug, we've picked up three relievers who appeared in 175 combined games last year, and all of them possess the durability you need coming out of the bullpen. Doug is a winning player."

Brocail spent the 1995-96 seasons with Houston. In that span, Brocail was 7-9 with one save and a 4.35 ERA in 59 games. During the 1995 campaign, he notched a career-high six wins as a member of the Astros bullpen. Brocail also spent time in the Houston organization in 2001-02, but made only three Minor League appearances because of injury.

In 13 Major League seasons with San Diego (1992-94, 2006-07), Houston (1995-96), Detroit (1997-2000) and Texas (2004-05), Brocail owns a 44-43 record with seven saves and a 3.99 ERA.

Brocail has recorded winning records in five of the last seven seasons and has not posted a losing record since 1997. Since 1998, his combined winning percentage of .638 (30-17) ranks fourth among Major League relief pitchers. Although Brocail has been used in both starting and relief roles in his career, he has not started a big league game since 1997 with Detroit. Since the 1998 season, he has made 375 consecutive relief appearances without a start. In that span, he is 30-17 with a 3.70 ERA.

Not surprisingly, Brocail isn't fazed by the short distance in left field (315 feet), which makes Minute Maid Park far more of a hitter's park than the Astrodome.

"I like the fact that that short porch is out there, because it makes me make my pitches," Brocail said.

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