Clement takes step, but faces long road
Righty has positive, if not rocky, outing in Minor League game
JUPITER, Fla. -- Matt Clement took a step toward a return to active duty on Tuesday, but in so doing he showed just how far he still has to go.
Clement pitched in a game situation for the first time this spring, taking the mound for Double-A Springfield against Triple-A Memphis in a Cardinals intrasquad game on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium. After a series of batting practice sessions, Tuesday's contest was the closest Clement has come to true game action.
The results, however, were not what Clement was looking for. The righty, who is still on the road to full recovery following shoulder surgery in late 2006, walked four of the seven batters he faced. He threw 37 pitches, just 19 for strikes, and threw his fastball at 84-85 mph -- hitting 86 twice.
"I felt really good," Clement said. "That is what I take [from] it. The main thing is getting used to being able to put some people away, make pitches to get outs. But the movement was there. It's probably the best my sinker has been."
Clement's pitches did move nicely. His sinker sank and his slider dove. However, he had difficulty commanding the pitches and he still has a long way to go with his velocity. He is multiple starts away from being able to pitch in a Major League game, and he will begin the season on the disabled list and in extended Spring Training.
When camp began, Clement was projected as part of the Cardinals' season-opening rotation. Since then, however, it's become clear that his process will be arduous. Pitching coach Dave Duncan said Tuesday that he expects Mark Mulder, who is rehabbing from September shoulder surgery, back before Clement.
"There's no doubt," Duncan said. "No doubt in my mind."
Clement began well, getting top prospect Colby Rasmus to fly out. Jose Martinez hit a ground ball to third base and reached on an error, but from there, things got worse. Joe Mather worked a six-pitch walk against Clement, and Josh Phelps drew a seven-pitch walk.
With Clement at 20 pitches, the inning was called off.
Clement came back out for a second frame and walked Brian Barden on five pitches. He struck out Nick Stavinoha, but a nine-pitch Rico Washington plate appearance ended in a fourth free pass. Once again, with Clement at his pitch count, the inning was brought to an end.
"Obviously, I didn't command like I wanted to, but it's the first time I've faced hitters really in 20 months," Clement said. "So there were a few times where I pitched like I was in a normal game and was a hair away from executing exactly how I wanted to be able to execute the pitch."
Duncan acknowledged concern about Clement's velocity, but the pitcher said he believes it's headed in the right direction.
"I don't worry about it right now, because today was the first time I've been there," Clement said. "Obviously, I'd like it to be a little higher, but it is the first time. I think as I throw with this intensity, get into a groove over and over, I think that's going to increase.
"As I face hitters, even hitters from another team will help. But it was a first step in facing hitters and where I'm going to be at. I can't sit and worry about velocity. It's going to be where it's going to be. But I do feel like there's going to be more coming out."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.