Rocket allows solo homer in four innings
TAMPA, Fla. -- Roger Clemens is four innings closer to his major-league return and pushing himself relentlessly.
With New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner watching from a private box at Legends Field, Clemens threw 58 pitches and gave up only a solo homer Friday night for Class-A Tampa in the first minor-league start of his latest comeback.
"Right now I'm in high gear. In the next four or five days, hopefully I'll be able to step back and get a grasp on everything," the 44-year-old Clemens said.
"I've pushed my body to a point now in the last three weeks that hopefully I can start trying to retain some energy so I can get a little better results when I get on the mound," he said.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner allowed three hits and struck out two against the Fort Myers Miracle, a Minnesota Twins affiliate. He left to a standing ovation from a crowd of 10,257 -- up from 1,108 the Florida State League teams drew the previous night.
The Boss liked what he saw.
"He looked good. He looked fine," Steinbrenner said. "He was all we expected."
Erik Lis homered in the first inning off Clemens, who came out of the game after needing just eight pitches to get through a perfect fourth inning. He estimated he threw 50 to 55 pitches while warming up before the game and then did some additional work in the bullpen after the outing.
The Yankees said Clemens' fastball topped out at 91 mph and averaged 90 during the appearance.
"I had my mouth open a little bit in the first inning. That was good. I wasn't panting, but I was breathing pretty hard," Clemens said, explaining that he wanted to push himself to exhaustion.
"I think I'm a little further along than I anticipated. Several times I drove off the mound and felt my legs came with me. A couple of times they didn't," he said.
Clemens agreed to a one-year, $28,000,022 contract on May 6 and has been working out at the Yankees' minor-league complex in Tampa since last Monday. He's scheduled to make a start with Double-A Trenton on Wednesday and could join New York's rotation as early as May 28 at Toronto or June 2 or 3 at Boston.
Asked whether Clemens might be ready after only one more minor-league start, Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "That's a possibility."
"If he's doing what he wants to do -- as I say, he knows more about his body. But if there's total objection to it by somebody watching him, I'm sure he would rethink," Torre said after the Yankees' 3-2 loss to the Mets.
With the Yankees 10 games behind Boston in the AL East, Clemens wants a rapid return.
"I'm going to get ready as soon as possible," Clemens said. "I'm trying to push myself, but I'm also trying to be smart about it."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman doesn't want to rush Clemens, either.
"I know that he's going to try to get back as soon as he realistically can. But ultimately the games will tell you. His body will tell you," Cashman said in New York.
"Tonight is Game 1. We'll get a clearer picture here or a better picture after one, but really probably after two games we'll get a feel for how close he is," he said.
Clemens also brushed aside criticism from Yankees reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who said this week that no pitcher should be allowed to leave the team when they aren't pitching. Clemens' contract allows him to leave the team for personal matters when he's not scheduled to pitch.
"I'm not even going to comment on it," Clemens said. "It's not worth commenting on. I'm pretty tired of answering about it. Again, we've got far more serious issues to worry about right now than that."
Ninety minutes before gametime, a sign on the ticket window outside Legends Field -- the Yankees' spring training home -- read "sold out." Inside, there were plenty of empty seats, but fans gave Clemens a warm reception.
Many stood and cheered when he was introduced and trotted out to the mound accompanied by 4-year-old Nicholas Ketterer, who stood beside the pitcher during the national anthem and then helped him put resin on his right arm.
Lis, a ninth-round draft pick of the Twins in 2005, homered on a 2-2 pitch with two outs in the first. Dwayne White singled in the second and Toby Gardenhire, son of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, doubled in the third for the Miracle.
The Minnesota manager said he was able to watch his son get the double off Clemens on television in the clubhouse before the Twins played Milwaukee.
"Everyone in the locker room was yelling," Gardenhire said. "It was such a neat thing to see him get the hit. I called my wife right away to tell her he got a hit. It is just a great night all around. I can't wait to call him and congratulate him for getting a hit off Clemens."
The 23-year-old Lis was born two months before Clemens made his major-league debut in 1984.
"I was in complete shock," said Lis, whose father flew in from Chicago for the game.
Lis wound up with the ball. He said he wouldn't ask Clemens to sign it, but the Rocket said he planned to do it, anyway.
"When you throw a high two-seamer and it doesn't do much," Clemens said, stopping before finishing the sentence.
"He got it. I can only imagine what that feels like. The only thing I think I can come close to relating that to is I always told my mother I wanted to hurry up and make it to the major leagues to face Reggie Jackson, and I was able to do that," he said.
Clemens helped the Yankees to two World Series titles and four AL pennants before leaving after the 2003 season with intentions of retiring. With a 348-178 record in 22 seasons, he's eighth on the career wins list and second all-time in strikeouts with 4,604.
The 13-time All-Star, who turns 45 on Aug. 4, was 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA with the Houston Astros last season.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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