Notes: Rocket cleared for relaunch
Pettitte feels good after bullpen session
CHICAGO -- It's official: Roger Clemens is ready to return. Again.
Four days after Clemens pulled out of his scheduled season debut with the Yankees, he has been cleared to start Saturday's game at Yankee Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mark it down, circle it, whatever. The Rocket is back.
"It's a huge boost for us," Johnny Damon said, no pun intended.
Clemens threw 54 pitches in a live batting practice session at the Yankees' Minor League complex in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday. He worked out of the stretch and faced both left- and right-handed hitters in what manager Joe Torre described as a simulated game designed to test the restraints of Clemens' fatigued groin.
"Everything today went well," Clemens said in a statement released by the Yankees. "I have a short downhill training session [Thursday] and then I should be locked in and ready to go. The weakness that came from the scar tissue has so far dispersed. Today's bullpen session was a little more intense than a regular side session. Normally, I would throw about 60 percent, but today I threw closer to 80 percent."
Torre hadn't spoken to Clemens but said he got good reports on his performance.
With the Yankees off to a dismal start -- 11 1/2 games back of first place in the AL East going into Wednesday's game against the White Sox -- the expectations for Clemens are magnified. For some, he won't just be pitching against the Pirates; he'll be trying to strike out the first two months of the season.
"I don't think we can concern ourselves with [expectations], because they're going to be what they are, because of his status and where he's going when he does decide to pack it in," Torre said. "There are going to be high expectations, but that's followed him no matter where he's gone. We know basically what we need from him and hopefully, it doesn't get too out of whack."
While some players have tried to distance themselves from the notion of Clemens acting as a Texas-sized salve for the Yankees' ailments, everyone is still pretty excited about filling the open rotation spot with a future Hall of Famer, to go along with Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang and rookie Tyler Clippard.
"I'm sure we'll be a better team, just with the fact that we have him," Damon said. "Just the presence of Roger Clemens on the mound can get people out."
Torre is preaching patience to Clemens, giving him an easy out if he feels any pain Thursday in his workout.
"I basically told him, if you feel anything, if something isn't right, don't hesitate to tell us," Torre said.
Pettitte ready to go: Pettitte judged himself ready to start Friday's series opener against the Pirates after throwing a bullpen session before Wednesday's game. He suffered back spasms in his last start Sunday in Boston, and pushed back his bullpen a day.
"I threw, I felt good. I felt real good actually," he said. "I'm going to pitch Friday. I heated up and threw a good 'pen today."
Pettitte (3-4, 2.96) said his back hadn't been bothering him recently and that he didn't anticipate any more problems before his session Wednesday.
"I don't want it to act up again, that's where I'm at," he said. "If there's any concern, that's where it is."
Young and restless: Clippard, the Yankees' baby-faced starter, took a break from chuckling at reruns of "The Office" on his iPod on Wednesday to talk about his excitement on pitching in the same rotation as Clemens.
"It's awesome, man," the 22-year-old right-hander said. "I never in a million years could've predicted that. I'm just excited to meet him and talk to him about some things and see what he has to say. It's going to be fun.
"Anything he has to say, I'm definitely going to be all ears about. Whether it's what he does in-between starts -- he's stayed healthy a long time now, which is a big deal for a lot of people -- or any stuff like that. Anything is going to be helpful."
With his lanky frame and arms-akimbo delivery, Clippard is hardly intimidating on the mound, but he's getting the job done. He pitched five solid innings in the Yankees' 7-3 win Tuesday, giving up one run to push his record to 3-1 and lower his ERA to 3.60. What did he learn from his second straight win?
"Every outing, you try and learn new things, but basically just to continue to go after guys and get ahead, because that's a big deal, especially at this level," he said.
News and notes: Miguel Cairo got his second straight start at first on Wednesday, after starting two double plays, picking up two singles and driving in a run on Tuesday. "He's an infielder and we have a ground-ball pitcher going," Torre said of Chien-Ming Wang. "Hopefully he's a ground-ball guy today." ... Clippard's outing marked the 26th time a rookie has started a game for the Yankees this season. According to the team, the last time that happened was in 2001 when rookies started 36 times, including 21 for Ted Lilly. ... Torre said he expects to give Derek Jeter a day off Thursday as the Yankees finish the four-game series with the White Sox with a 7:11 CT game. "I think [he will be] off, with the flight and everything tomorrow," Torre said. After Tuesday's game Torre joked he might have to "chloroform" Jeter to get him a day off. He has played in 56 of the team's 57 games. ... The White Sox declared Wednesday "Cicada Night," and the festivities included someone dressed up as a giant Cicada-like insect and danced around foul territory before the game. The promotion caused Torre to chuckle and recount an old cicada story from "1996 or 97" involving his family. ... The Yankees are honoring a 12-year-old Bronx boy who helped police foil a robbery in his apartment last week by inviting him to the team's game against the Pirates on Friday. Edwin Alamo and his family will get to tour the stadium and have access to batting practice as a well as "great seats" to the game, according to a team release.
Coming up: RHP Mike Mussina (2-3, 6.25) faces off against former Yankee Jose Contreras (4-5, 4.29) in the series finale at U.S. Cellular Field. Mussina is 0-2 in his last four starts and hasn't won since May 9.
Jon Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.