Whether the Houston Astros are still trying to clinch the NL wild card or already have their playoff spot secured, Roger Clemens plans to pitch Saturday.
The Rocket skipped his last scheduled start because of a sore left hamstring that has bothered him all month. The 43-year-old right-hander, who is 12-8 and leads the major leagues with a 1.89 ERA, wants to pitch again before the playoffs.
"I need to be in a game," Clemens said Thursday before the Astros opened their regular season-ending series against the Chicago Cubs. "I've rested too long. The side work that I'm doing is not intense enough. I need to get out in a game and at least get some active innings under my belt before we get underway."
Clemens said he felt good and had "bounced back pretty good" after an extensive bullpen session Wednesday that followed treatment on his hamstring.
Manager Phil Garner had already said that Clemens, who last season won his record seventh Cy Young Award and has 340 career victories, would pitch Saturday against the Cubs.
"He wants to and I want him to," Garner said. "I think he'd just like to know where he stands. He needs to be on the mound to see where he is."
Clemens is 1-4 in his last eight starts. The victory during that stretch was Sept. 14 against Florida, when he pitched into the seventh inning on the same day his mother died.
In his only start since, Clemens gave up 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings Sept. 19 at Pittsburgh, the most hits he has allowed since 1999 with the New York Yankees. The Pirates won 7-0, the ninth time this season the Astros were shut out in a game Clemens started.
BOSTON ADDS STANTON: The Red Sox acquired left-hander Mike Stanton from the Washington Nationals on Thursday for right-handers Rhys Taylor and Yader Peralta.
Boston's trade means Stanton could wind up pitching this weekend against his former team, the New York Yankees. If the Red Sox advance to the playoffs, Stanton would not be eligible for the postseason roster.
Stanton, who is 38, started the season with the Yankees and was cut June 30 after going 1-2 with a 7.08 ERA in 14 innings over 28 relief appearances. He signed with Washington on July 13 and went 2-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 27 2/3 innings over 30 games.
"We'd like to thank Mike for the fine job he did not only in our bullpen, but with the knowledge and leadership he shared with our young pitchers," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. "We are pleased to acquire two young pitchers with good arms."
Taylor, 20, was 2-2 with a 1.49 ERA in five starts and six relief appearances for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Peralta, 19, combined to go 2-3 with four saves and a 4.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances for Greenville, Lowell and the Gulf Coast League Red Sox.
ROYALS SIGN TOP PICK: Third baseman Alex Gordon, the No. 2 pick in June's amateur draft, agreed Friday to a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals that includes a $4 million signing bonus. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Gordon is the highest first-round selection in club history. He was due to report to Arizona later Thursday to begin play in the Instructional League.
A two-time Big 12 player of the year at Nebraska, he hit .353 with 44 homers and 189 RBIs in his three-year career. As a junior, he batted .372 with 19 home runs and 66 RBIs, earning the Golden Spikes Award as the U.S. Baseball Federation's top amateur player and sweeping the collegiate player of the year awards.
NARRON STAYING: Keeping the Reds from giving up after a horrible start has earned manager Jerry Narron another year in Cincinnati. The Reds extended his contract on Thursday through the 2006 season with a mutual option for 2007. Narron began the season as the Reds bench coach and was appointed interim manager when Dave Miley was fired June 21 after the team's 27-43 start. Cincinnati was 46-42 under Narron entering Thursday's game against Milwaukee.
BREWERS, GM NEGOTIATING: General manager Doug Melvin is negotiating a long-term contract extension with the Milwaukee Brewers. Melvin took over as GM on Sept. 26, 2002, and has been able to find good players on the waiver wire to plug roster holes while the organization develops minor league prospects. The Brewers entered the final week of the season within reach of their first non-losing season since 1992.
CUBANS COMING? Baseball officials said Thursday they expect Cuba to participate in the first World Baseball Classic in March. Japan's players' association agreed this month to participate in the World Baseball Classic, which will be the first international tournament to feature major league players. The 16-country tournament begins March 3. San Diego's Petco Park will host the semifinals on March 18 and the finals on March 20.
As a contingency, Orza said there are other countries that could fill Cuba's spot if it doesn't come.