Rocket to get cortisone shot, says he'll pitch again

Updated: September 4, 2007, 8:06 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Roger Clemens walked onto the field, dressed in full pinstripes, and stood alongside his New York Yankees' teammates behind home plate for a team photo Tuesday. He hopes to rejoin them in games soon.

The Rocket will have a cortisone shot Wednesday on his ailing right elbow and is confident he will be able to pitch again this season. But he also hinted that the injury is more serious than the diagnosis of "inflammation" in his right elbow that was announced by the team.

Clemens' start was cut short after four innings Monday in New York's 7-1 loss to Seattle, and he had an MRI exam after the game. He thought the elbow problem stemmed from a blister on his foot that caused him to alter his mechanics.

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner never before has had a cortisone shot to his arm. He will fly to Houston and be examined by Astros team physician Dr. Thomas Mehlhoff. While the Yankees said a shot was possible, Clemens said he will have one.

Olney: Reflections Of ...

An aching elbow will prevent Roger Clemens from making his next scheduled start, at the very least, at a time when Clemens may be in the last days of arguably the greatest pitching career in baseball history.

Clemens started on Monday against a pitcher, Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who wasn't even born when Clemens won his first game in the big leagues in 1984. Clemens posted a 2.48 ERA in the first year of Joba Chamberlain's life, and a 2.30 ERA in the year that Chamberlain was drafted. He became the first pitcher in history to strike out 20 batters in a game in 1986, and became the second to do so, in 1995.

If he never pitches again, Clemens would finish his career with 354 victories, the most of any pitcher since Warren Spahn, and almost as many as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale combined. He has 4,668 strikeouts, more than anybody not named Nolan Ryan, and more than 1,000 more than Tom Seaver and about 1,500 more than Bob Gibson. Clemens is one of only three 300-game winners, along with Lefty Grove and Christy Mathewson, who has a career winning percentage of greater than .650.

He has won a record seven Cy Young Awards in three different decades -- the first in 1986, and in 1987 and 1991 -- and then four more (1997, 1998, 2001 and 2004) after former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette suggested that Clemens was entering the twilight of his career. Ckemens received MVP votes in 10 different seasons and won the AL MVP in 1986. He threw his first pitch in the big leagues when George H.W. Bush was vice president, and may throw his last pitch with George W. Bush as president.

-- Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

"I'm very optimistic. Even if it takes multiple sessions, I'm willing to deal with that," Clemens said.

Manager Joe Torre said Mike Mussina will take Clemens' turn this weekend at Kansas City. For now, Torre is expecting Clemens will miss just one turn.

"The elbow seems to be fine as far as all the structural stuff," Torre said. "I'm thinking that he's going to pitch, and I'm not looking too far down the road for that to happen, either."

Clemens wouldn't reveal exactly what the MRI exam showed. The 45-year-old right-hander, now in his 24th major league season, is known for his physical and mental toughness.

"I kind of know what it says. I know what the guy read for me at home," Clemens said. "He's going to tell you something a little lesser, probably."

Clemens couldn't say whether the injury would require surgery at the end of the season. Asked whether it was his most serious arm injury since a shoulder operation 22 years ago, he responded: "I'll be able to answer that in a month, maybe."

"I'm pushing my body until it starts pushing back. It's pushing back a little bit," he said. "The muscles and everything else are just basically shutting down and trying to grab a hold of my arm."

The Rocket rejoined the Yankees on June 9, a little more than a month after he agreed to a one-year contract worth $28,000,022. Because he joined the team in midseason, his prorated salary is $17,442,637.

Clemens is 6-6 with a 4.45 ERA in 16 starts and one relief appearance. He is eighth on the career wins list at 354 and second on the strikeouts list at 4,668, and he was brought in to provide leadership and stability to a staff decimated by injuries early in the season.

"I'm committed here. I'm not running out on these guys now," Clemens said. "Until I can't do it any more, I'm going to continue to push forward."

He hasn't had many arm problems since shoulder surgery to repair torn cartilage in August 1985. For much of his career, his most serious injuries were to his groin. He said during his last three starts, by the second inning "my foot's been on fire. It's been bleeding."

"When I have leg problems, I'm in trouble," he said. "I still feel that my mind is strong enough to deal with my shoulder and elbow, that I can still be effective."

Mussina had a 17.69 ERA in his last three starts before he was replaced in the rotation last weekend by Ian Kennedy, who beat Tampa Bay in his major league debut. Mussina then allowed two runs and seven hits over 3 2/3 innings in relief of Clemens on Monday -- the first regular-season relief appearance of Mussina's big league career.

"I thought his stuff was a lot better than we've seen in his last three starts," Torre said. "He had a chance to get outside his routine for a little bit and breathe a little bit."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press