OAKLAND -- The Astros have a plan in place as they seek to grow into a contender for the American League West title. It just may seem too far away for many fans.
"We're tired of losing and the kids are tired of losing," pitching coach Doug Brocail said before the Astros took on the Athletics on Tuesday night. "Sure, we could go for the quick fix, but that's not part of the plan."
What is part of the plan is developing starting pitchers -- a lot of starting pitchers. If Dallas Keuchel and Paul Clemens are any indication, Houston is on the right track.
"We have some good young guys up here already in a good learning environment," Brocail said. "We encourage them all to speak up if they see something. That's why I like them to play catch with different players every day."
Clemens has made two appearances this season, essentially repeating what he has done in the Minors, where a piggyback system is in effect. Clemens took over for Erik Bedard in both of his starts, pitching a combined 9 1/3 innings.
"We really don't know who will start and who will pitch long relief in the long run," Brocail said. "We made the decision to build starting pitching at Triple-A by the piggyback system, where one guy goes five innings and the other tries to close out the game."
Keuchel has shown it works. When he was with the Astros last year, he started 12 games. In eight innings in relief this season, he's allowed just one run. He tossed three scoreless innings in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the A's, giving up three hits.
"From the beginning of Spring Training, I would start one game and come in relief the next time," Keuchel said. "If I needed to start, I would be able to build up endurance easier. I'm pretty much in shape where I could go 85 pitches."
While the Astros' diehard fans understand it's a process, the casual fan may not understand how it works.
"We have some good arms coming up, they are just not ready yet," Brocail said. "This doesn't happen overnight, as much as the coaches and front office would like it to."
The current season-ticket holders will be rewarded for their patience. The Astros are building to win.
Rick Eymer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less