Yankees Rein in Expectations of Clemens

Yankees Rein in Expectations of Clemens


Published : May 8, 2007 / The new York Times

The Yankees have gotten the headlines and the hope. They will have to wait several weeks to see if the signing of Roger Clemens actually gets them much-needed victories.

As fans and the news media herald Rocket Re-Entry, the players who will welcome Clemens around June 1 are taking a more pragmatic approach. They realize that the pitcher whom they will call a teammate for four regular-season months, two of the months at age 44 and two at 45, will probably be different from the one whose likeness will hang in Cooperstown five years after he really — no, really — retires.

“Roger is very good, but somewhere between a No. 2 and No. 3 starter is more likely what he’s capable of being,” starter Mike Mussina said before the Yankees played the Mariners last night at Yankee Stadium. “Everyone has to remember that he’s 44 going on 45. He’s not what he was the last time he was here.”

Clemens was not at Yankee Stadium yesterday, one day after announcing his signing directly to his once-again home fans. He was nearby playing a charity golf tournament in Edison, N.J.

Clemens, who said yesterday that he did not know the details of his prorated $28 million contract when his signing was announced, will not be a full-fledged Yankee again until Memorial Day weekend or later. He will work out at University of Kentucky facilities in Lexington, Ky., for about 10 days, to be near his son Koby, a third baseman for the Astros’ Class A affiliate there. He will make several minor league starts, but General Manager Brian Cashman said that they had yet to be scheduled.

“If you think it’s about money, you’re greatly mistaken,” Clemens told reporters at the golf tournament. “I’m not going to put my body through the paces I put my body through to earn a few more dollars.”

When Clemens puts on the pinstripes after that, some might expect him to be better than he was when he left New York after 2003. In his final two seasons with the Yankees, he posted somewhat middling earned run averages of 4.35 and 3.91; in his last two seasons with the Houston Astros, his E.R.A.’s were 1.87 and 2.30, spectacular figures hinting that Clemens has somehow improved while chugging into his mid-40s.

Several Yankees remained cautious yesterday. Although injuries have forced Clemens to miss only a few starts the past few seasons — a pesky groin has troubled him occasionally since his days with the Yankees — he has become a five- or six-inning pitcher. Despite often breezing through National League lineups, Clemens pitched into the seventh inning only six times in 19 starts last season and has not thrown into an eighth inning since August 2005.

Manager Joe Torre will still need three or four innings from his increasingly worn relievers to preserve the leads Clemens may bequeath.

Andy Pettitte, a good friend who pitched with Clemens in New York and Houston, said that Clemens’s command was perhaps the best of his career but that his velocity had dropped.

According to Inside Edge, a statistical scouting service used by many major league clubs, Clemens’s fastball has slowed to 91 miles an hour from about 93.5 m.p.h. five years ago. Inside Edge also reported that he was throwing his slider less and his split-finger fastball more.

“He pitches around lineups and through lineups better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Pettitte said. “I don’t think his mind’s gone any, so I think he’ll still be able to do that.”

On a day when Matt DeSalvo became the sixth Yankees rookie to take a turn in the rotation this season, several Yankees said Clemens’s arrival would provide important psychological benefits, beyond his pitching and the example he sets for younger players.

“It removes the questions about whoever was going to be out there instead of him,” Mussina said.

Cashman said: “He’s here to produce, he’s here to stabilize. And he’s here to protect our farm system — I don’t have to trade anyone to get a pitcher of his caliber.”

There is little precedent for a pitcher of Clemens’s caliber to begin his season this late voluntarily — beyond Clemens last year, of course, when he made his first start for Houston on June 22. But the Yankees have no intention of having Clemens pitch for only four months. They plan for five, the last being the postseason in October.

Older pitchers like Orlando Hernández, David Wells and even Clemens himself (during the 2005 World Series against the White Sox) have had age catch up with them during the playoffs recently. Then again, they were on their seventh month of pitching, while Clemens in 2007 would only be on his fifth.

“Let’s not forget that he’s 44 years old,” Torre said, sounding his own note of caution. “There’s only so many throws in that arm. But would you rather have them in the first few months of the season or the last few?”

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