Astros 'somewhat optimistic' about Clemens' return

The Houston Astros have taken a baby step forward on Roger Clemens. They've progressed from clueless about his plans to "somewhat optimistic" that he will return to pitch in 2006, according to general manager Tim Purpura.

Judging from the tone of Purpura's comments Thursday, the Astros have more reason than not to be upbeat as they await word on whether their 43-year-old Hall of Famer-in-waiting will give it one more shot.

"We have to be respectful of Roger and what he's going through in trying to recover and feel things out," Purpura said. "But I'm somewhat optimistic, because I think there are a lot of things pulling him back. His performance was tremendous last year. He's still a great competitor, and his son is going to continue to play in our minor-league system. There's a lot there.