Friday, August 26, 2005

Clemens Harmful to Houston Hitters

Despite Roger Clemens’s first complete game of the season, the Houston Astros fell 2–0 to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday.  The result is all too familiar to Astros fans.  Although he has a dazzling 1.56 ERA, Clemens has a modest 11–6 record.  Houston has been shut out in two of his last three starts, and amazingly, in seven of the Rocket’s appearances this season.  The team has scored three runs or fewer in 16 of his 27 starts.  Which leads to one logical conclusion: Clemens is hurting the Astros’ offense.


Baseball has a rich history of showcasing fearsome pitchers.  Hitters could count on a sleepless night with the prospect of facing Bob Gibson or Nolan Ryan the following day.  But Clemens has taken this dread to the next level – he’s so intimidating, he even scares his own batters.  Houston manager Phil Garner must keep this factor in mind when he fills out his lineup card.  Just as American League managers often sit a struggling left-handed hitter when Johan Santana is pitching, Garner would be well-advised to bench a slumping batter when he sends Clemens to the mound.  Otherwise, the odds just aren’t in his favor.


It could be argued that the Rocket’s effect on the Astros’ offense cost Houston the National League pennant last season.  Forced to a game 7 by Jim Edmonds’s walk-off home run in St. Louis, Garner’s decision to start Clemens ensured that Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan would be almost unhittable.  Houston only managed one run as the Cardinals advanced to the World Series.


The ineptitude of the Astros’ offense during Clemens’s starts has to have an effect on the team’s psyche.  It’s rumored that sluggers Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent left town because being in the same lineup with Clemens every fifth day would severely diminish their numbers.  Astros players routinely take extra batting practice on days when Clemens is pitching, but nothing seems to be working.  Before a recent start by the Rocket, one player in the Houston lineup pointed to his bat and lamented, “Why do I even have this thing today?  It won’t do me any good!”


Clemens next takes the mound on Sunday to face the Dodgers.  Los Angeles starter Jeff Weaver is already licking his chops.