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Houston pitcher Harrell looks to bounce back after losing 17 games last season

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Lucas Harrell won a team-best 11 games as a rookie in 2012 before a terrible season a year ago, when he led the American League with 17 losses and got bumped into the bullpen.

Harrell made some off-season adjustments, and he is confident he can reclaim a spot in Houston's rotation.

"The big thing is just being around all the new guys, all the new faces and just coming clean and letting go of last year," he said. "When you have a bad year you just want to forget about it and move on and work on ways to get better and focus on those things."

Harrell won a spot in the rotation in 2012 and went 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA. A year later, his ERA ballooned to 5.86 and he was 6-17 in 36 games with 22 starts.

"It's frustrating because you work hard," he said. "But you've got to take the bad with the good. It was a learning lesson and hopefully it will help me as a player and as a person."

Manager Bo Porter has discussed with Harrell how to move on.

"It's a brand new season," Porter said. "Show up this year ready to compete and be the pitcher that we all believe you are capable of being."

Harrell got off to a decent start last season, posting a 3.60 ERA in the opening month of the season. He had a bad May before it looked like he got back on track in June when he again posted an ERA lower than he did in April. But he regressed to start July, allowing seven earned runs in just 3 1-3 innings in his first start of the month and was soon taken out of the rotation.

"I tried to do too much," he said. "Sometimes I went out there and I felt like I had to be perfect on every pitch and that's obviously not going to happen ... so I definitely learned a good lesson on that."

The move to the bullpen didn't help things and Harrell felt out of sorts and knew he had to figure out how to get back to the pitcher he once was.

"I was just trying to do whatever I could to help the team win from there on out," he said. "I just wanted to pitch well and succeed."

Instead the losses kept piling up as he went 1-8 in the last three months mostly working in relief. He did have two emergency starts, but he didn't win either of those.

What happened last year led Harrell to watch a lot of video of his outings and he found that his mechanics were off. He focused on fixing those problems which he believed led to his control problems.

Porter has already noticed an improvement.

"Extremely encouraged by the adjustments," he said. "And when you look at not only the physical adjustments, I think mentally he's in a much better place and I believe some of our greatest accomplishments come after failure."

Along with Porter's approval, Harrell also got some encouragement from Roger Clemens last week. Harrell said Clemens watched him in a bullpen session and thought he look a lot better.

"We talked about the things I've been working on," Harrell said. "And he was just reassuring me that those are the things I need to make sure I have every time out because they're going to help me succeed every time out whether my stuff is good or bad that day. As long as your mechanics are good and consistent then you're just going to give yourself an opportunity to throw a better pitch."

The Astros added several veteran pitchers this off-season including Scott Feldman, Jerome Williams and Chad Qualls to improve a staff which posted a league-worst 4.79 ERA in 2013. Harrell is happy about the new look to the staff.

"These guys all have really good attitudes and their outlook on the game is a lot better than what we've had in the past," Harrell said. "So having guys like that in the clubhouse is only going to help me and everybody else out."

He'll get his first real opportunity to see if his off-season work has paid off on Friday night when he starts Houston's first spring training game against the Braves.

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