ROUND ROCK, Texas -- It was a rough start and solid finish for The Rocket. Next stop: Houston.
Pitching for the Triple A Round Rock Express in the final tuneup before his return to the Astros, Roger Clemens gave up three runs on three hits in the first inning before settling into a big league groove last night against the New Orleans Zephyrs.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner also walked three and faced nine batters in the first, throwing 41 pitches before retiring the next eight hitters in a row.
Clemens finished with 5 2/3 innings of work with 5 strikeouts, 5 hits, and 3 walks. Of his 91 pitches, 57 went for strikes. He also picked up the win as the Express rallied for a 7-4 victory in the Pacific Coast League.
``I made it a little harder work than I would have liked to in the first inning, but I'm going to run into those situations throughout the season as I come back," Clemens said.
It was the third outing in the minors for the 43-year-old righthander, who signed a $22 million contract for the season May 31.
His first start with the Astros is Thursday at home against the Minnesota Twins. It will start his 23d major league season.
``I'm on target," Clemens said. ``My body feels fine. That was the ultimate goal coming out of here, my body feeling healthy."
Clemens flashed a ``Hook 'em Horns" sign and got a standing ovation from the Express-record 13,475 fans who came to watch the former Texas Longhorns star pitch about 15 miles from the campus where he won an NCAA championship in 1983.
Clemens admitted he was distracted early in an unfamiliar environment. ``I have to get focused as quick as possible. The bottom line was I was still trying to throw strikes and my ball was moving all over the place, so I had to harness that."
It took a long time for Clemens to settle in as he missed inside and out with a two-seam fastball that hit 91 miles per hour.
``You're going to get a little better test here. These kids are right on the door and knocking the door down to the big leagues," he said.
Mixing up fastballs and curves, Clemens found his groove when he came back out for the second and left with a 1-2-3 inning.
``I tested my legs as much as possible. My upper body is great. I think my back will be a little sore," Clemens said.