Clemens like Rocket of old in return to mound
He allows just one hit in 3 1/3 innings, reaches 88 mph with fastball
SUGAR LAND, Texas -- If Roger Clemens intends to pitch in the big leagues this season, his performance for the Sugar Land Skeeters on Saturday night only helped his case.
Pitching before a standing-room-only crowd at Constellation Field, Clemens allowed one hit over 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out two, walked none and looked like the same old Rocket during his 37-pitch outing against the Bridgeport Bluefish.
He has a little more paunch around the middle, but that is the only indication that he's not of a "normal" age to be pitching competitively, against professional hitters. Clemens, who turned 50 on Aug. 4 and hasn't appeared in the big leagues since 2007, was hitting 88 mph with his fastball and seemingly had no problems with the Bluefield hitters, who saw 24 of Clemens' 37 pitches go for strikes.
"It was good," Clemens said. "Everyone says it's like riding a bike. I just wanted to make sure I got out of there uninjured but still make a good showing."
There is rampant speculation that Clemens' cameo appearance with the Skeeters is a precursor for a return to the Houston Astros. Although he acknowledged that a second start with the Sugar Land club is a good possibility, he steadfastly stuck to his previous insistence that he's not looking to reappear in the big leagues.
"I've had success before at that level and other things," he said. "It's a great deal of work and I'm not thinking that at this point."
Still, it's reasonable to assume he'll be thinking it at some point in the future. He plans to leave town for a trip in the next few days, which would likely negate him from pitching again during the current Skeeters homestand, which ends Wednesday.
Since there's about a zero percent chance Clemens will be traveling with the Skeeters, his next opportunity to pitch for them would be Sept. 7, a Friday.
The Astros will host Legends weekend Sept. 21-23, during which they'll salute a slew of former players as a part of their ongoing 50th anniversary celebration. It's fair to speculate a Legends weekend would be a fitting time for a legendary pitcher to take the mound -- and the spotlight. For the attendance-deficient Astros, the opportunity might be too enticing to pass up.
It's likely Clemens would want to start and not pitch out of the 'pen if he were to make a return to the big leagues. Regardless, he has more work to do. Independent League hitters -- perhaps a little over-anxious and prone to swinging at the first pitch -- are one thing. Major League hitters are quite another.
Consider Saturday's showing an encouraging first step and nothing more.
"I feel very fortunate and blessed that I was able to throw well," Clemens said. "I don't know what the velocity was but I used my legs a couple times and just tried to pitch and have fun with the guys who were out there behind me."
At his introductory press conference earlier this week, Clemens indicated his conversations with manager Gary Gaetti regarding future employment began a month ago. But the back-and-forth actually dates back to last winter, when Gaetti called Clemens to check on how Clemens' oldest son, Koby, was doing in his baseball career. Gaetti had just been named the Skeeters manager.
"I said, 'Roger, I'll offer you a contract right now if you would just come and pitch,'" Gaetti recalled.
Clemens' response, according to Gaetti: "I could probably go out and give you five innings right now."
He didn't make it quite that far, but judging by the exchange on the mound when Gaetti went to lift Clemens with one out in the fourth and the Skeeters leading 1-0, both men were satisfied with the outcome of this experiment.
"I basically said, 'Thank you,'" Gaetti said. "We knew he was coming out that inning."
Clemens said he will be in touch with Gaetti in the next few days to devise a plan for the future. Without coming out and saying it directly, Clemens sounded as if another Skeeters start was in the mix.
As far as Clemens taking his talents up the road to Minute Maid Park, Gaetti saw no reason for it not to happen.
"I wouldn't put anything past him," Gaetti said. "It's probably never been done before. Really, the only issue in this whole thing to me would be his age. Yet for some guys, age really doesn't mean much. You stay in shape, you know your limitations, you adapt."
Selfishly, Gaetti wouldn't mind if Clemens decided to stick around Sugar Land.
"He's great to have around," Gaetti said. "It was just fun. I like talking baseball with him. He's into every aspect of the game. He's smart. This [pitching comeback] may be extreme because of his age and the layoff, but he can do anything he wants to do in baseball. Pitching coach, manager ... he's got the credentials and the know-how and the passion. He's on a different level."