Walking boot can't dampen Keppinger's spirit
Astros infielder arrives at camp early despite left foot injury
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- This past offseason was a disappointing one for Jeff Keppinger, who lost the Astros' starting second-base job when the club traded for Clint Barmes and signed Bill Hall. He then underwent left foot surgery and is expected to miss the first six weeks of the season.
Keppinger underwent surgery Jan. 14 to remove a sesamoid bone in the foot, correcting an injury that hobbled him late last season. He hopes to get his walking boot off next week, but that hasn't stopped the infielder from reporting early to camp.
"The last thing you want to do is miss time, but I didn't want to always have to battle with it," Keppinger said of surgery. "I didn't want to be worried about it next year, so the next best thing to do was get it taken care of. That way, I don't have to deal with it and I can get on with my career."
Keppinger hit .288 last year and led the Astros with 34 doubles after taking the starting job away from Kaz Matsui early in the season. The Astros shopped Keppinger this offseason, trying to unload his salary, but his foot injury was a stumbling block.
"I'm not doing much," Keppinger said. "I'm just basically doing range-of-motion [exercises] and getting my foot moving, trying to build up my strength."
Pence, Astros head toward arbitration hearing
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros general manager Ed Wade and assistant general manager David Gottfried left the team's Spring Training facility Thursday morning to fly to Phoenix for Friday's scheduled arbitration hearing with right fielder Hunter Pence.
Pence, the Astros' Most Valuable Player a year ago, is seeking $6.9 million. The team's offer is $5.15 million. Pence was also scheduled to leave Thursday for the hearing before an arbitration panel, but he declined to comment on the case.
Once the case is heard, a three-person panel will rule in favor of either the team or Pence. There is no middle ground. Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith is one of the premier arbitration experts and has put together the case for Houston.
Pence, who made $3.5 million last year, hit .282 with 25 home runs and 91 RBIs. He set career highs in runs scored, hits, RBIs and stolen bases and tied his career high with his third consecutive 25-homer season.
Pence will be back at camp Saturday, one day ahead of the mandatory report date for position players.
An early arrival, Clemens strives to impress
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Koby Clemens, who's in Major League camp with the Astros for the first time, is no stranger to the big league atmosphere. He spent time in countless clubhouses and crossed paths with some of the game's biggest stars while growing up as the son of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.
Still, Clemens is trying to forge his own way and reported to camp on Feb. 1 -- the first day the Astros opened the facility for anyone who wanted to get a jump start -- in an effort to make a good impression and learn as much as he can.
"It's an exciting experience," said Clemens, who has 79 homers in 605 career Minor League games.
Clemens, who is being groomed as a first baseman, is sharing the Major League clubhouse for the first time with many of the players he came up with through the organization, and he hopes to lead the next charge of prospects.
"Luckily for me, I know a lot of these guys and have grown up playing with these guys through the Minor Leagues," Clemens said. "I'm good friends with these guys. You see the light at the end of the tunnel when you slowly make your way up here. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Rowland-Smith committed to contact lenses
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Ryan Rowland-Smith's trademark glasses are no more. At the encouragement of his sister, Rowland-Smith has ditched the glasses he had worn for most of his career in favor of contact lenses.
Rowland-Smith has astigmatism and has found wearing contact lenses to be uncomfortable in the past, but he finally found the right combination.
"As far as the glasses go, it's just a distraction," Rowland-Smith said. "They fog up. I just worked on it this offseason, and on Christmas Day, my sister -- she wears contacts -- she said, 'Lets get it done.' Every day, we worked on it, and I finally got it."
Rowland-Smith wore contacts in 2005 with the assistance of a trainer because he had so much difficulty putting them in. Still, he couldn't see very well and went back to wearing glasses. He insists he's committed to contacts this time.
"It's more about being able to see and not worrying about sweat and fog," Rowland-Smith said. "Plus, my mom says she could never get used to me wearing glasses."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.