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Roger Clemens talks to pitchers, catchers at Astros camp

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Roger Clemens tried to get across a sense of urgency to Houston Astros pitchers Wednesday.

"If it's working for you, stay with it. If it's not, you need to change something. That's something I said," Clemens said. "Obviously it's not working for some of you so you need to re-evaluate what you're doing."

In his capacity as special assistant to the general manager, Clemens addressed a group of young pitchers who were often overmatched last season.

With a staff significantly different from the one assembled this spring, the Astros posted a 4.79 ERA while losing 111 games.

"If you need to stay and do some extra work, conditioning, whatever it might be, that will make you mentally tougher than the next guy," Clemens said. "I think with all the conditioning I did throughout my career, that made me feel like I had an edge."

On the eve of the team's first full-squad workout, the Astros brought in the 51-year-old, seven-time Cy Young Award winner for a morning pep talk.

"I think these guys have got to realize that it's not only just about them, that everybody's rooting hard and they want 'em to do well," Clemens said.

"Obviously when they do that, a lot of people are going to start coming through the turnstiles again to watch 'em."

Clemens pitched three of his 24 major league seasons in Houston, winning the National League ERA title in 2005 when the Astros won the pennant. The years since have been lean, especially the past three in which the Astros lost 106, 107 and 111 games.

That's one of the reasons Clemens was brought back last year, according to general manager Jeff Luhnow.

"He really understands our philosophy as an organization," Luhnow said. "He's been a part of this organization for a long time and he sees eye-to-eye with everything that we're doing and is able to communicate the messages."

One of the messages is to no longer accept defeat.

"There's more than a handful of guys that have an opportunity and they need to take a big step forward," Clemens said. "In spring training everybody's all giddy right now, and then you start the season and everybody gets punched in the face. It's not a lot of fun.

I think they're kind of taking the kid gloves off 'em a little bit and asking a lot of 'em to step up."

The catchers, too.

"I asked those guys today to step up a little bit when the pitcher's not doing very well, and to get after him a little bit, see if you can stroke his emotions, get his attention so he's not lethargic out there," Clemens said. "There's a fine line there, but it's time for some of these guys to really take a giant step forward."

Veteran Chad Qualls, brought in to compete for the closer job, said Clemens got his points across.

"Anytime somebody with his presence steps into a room, he just kind of demands your attention," Qualls said. "You always open up and listen to what he has to say because he's been through everything, the ups and the downs. He knows exactly what he's talking about."

And at some point in the spring, it will go behind talking.

"At my advanced stage, I still enjoy putting the cleats on and demonstrating when I can.

I like the teaching aspect, and then to turn 'em loose and for them to get after it," he said. "I enjoy rooting for the underdog and trying to motivate guys and answer their questions when they have them."

Notes: Relief pitcher Jesse Crain strained his right calf while exercising in a gym Tuesday. The Astros are awaiting the result of an MRI. "That will be some sort of setback; I don't know how many days," Luhnow said. ... First baseman Japhet Amador, who hit .368 with 36 home runs in the Mexican League, will not report to spring training until further notice because of a family emergency.

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