Rocket could return to Yanks' rotation as early as next week

Updated: May 23, 2007, 8:09 PM ET
Associated Press

Roger Clemens
Clemens

NEW YORK -- Roger Clemens could be one productive outing from his return to the New York Yankees.

Clemens made his second minor league start of his latest comeback Wednesday night, and his next game after that might be for the Yankees in Toronto early next week.

The Rocket was pitching on Wednesday for Double-A Trenton against Portland, a Boston Red Sox affiliate in the Eastern League. If all goes well, he could jump right to the majors from there and slot into New York's rotation Monday or Tuesday against the Blue Jays -- one of his former teams.

Or the 44-year-old Clemens might choose to make another minor league start, perhaps for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, before returning to the big leagues June 2 or 3 at Boston, his original club.

Before the Yankees played the Red Sox on Tuesday night, manager Joe Torre reiterated that Clemens will decide when he's ready to join the team -- and he's not sure what the seven-time Cy Young Award winner has in mind.

"I don't know. I really don't. He'll tell us. I don't know if he knows for sure. If he does, he's keeping it a secret," Torre said. "I think Roger likes the dramatics, so wherever he shows up there will be all the bells and whistles, whether it's in this country or up north. But I don't think his mind's going to be made up on emotion. I think he's going to really decide on his body."

Once Clemens arrives and touted rookie Phil Hughes recovers from a hamstring injury, they figure to round out a Yankees rotation that already includes Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina.

"I think it could be an impressive rotation, a mix of young and veterans," Torre said. "The only way to get back in this thing and to get a record you're proud of is to pitch."

New York entered Wednesday night's game 20-24 and 10 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the AL East.

Meanwhile, Hall of Fame slugger and former major league manager Frank Robinson became the latest person to criticize the clause in Clemens' contract that allows him to leave the team for personal matters when he's not pitching.

"I think it's wrong because if you sign a contract to play baseball and you are given a clause like that, I just don't think it's fair to your teammates," Robinson said Tuesday on ESPN. "Why should one person on your ballclub get special treatment?

"I think it's going to create some friction there on that ballclub. And it may not be publicly, but it's going to be friction in that clubhouse, and that's not good for a ballclub, especially a ballclub that's struggling to right the ship over there and start winning and get their season turned around," he added.

Last week, Clemens brushed aside criticism from Yankees reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who said that no pitcher should be allowed to leave the team when he isn't pitching.

Clemens tossed four innings for Single-A Tampa on Friday night, allowing only a solo homer and three hits against the Fort Myers Miracle, a Minnesota Twins affiliate. He struck out two.

With Yankees owner George Steinbrenner watching from a private box at Legends Field, the right-hander threw 58 pitches and said he was pushing his body to get in game shape as quickly as possible. Clemens estimated he threw 50 to 55 pitches while warming up before the game and then did some additional work in the bullpen after his outing.

Clemens agreed to a one-year, $28,000,022 contract on May 6 and began working out at the Yankees' complex in Tampa, Fla., last week.

The Rocket 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, pitched the past three years with buddy Pettitte for their hometown Houston Astros. Clemens was 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA for Houston last season.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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