Patient approach with Clement

Friday, February 22, 2008
Matt Clement, a free-agent signee by the Cardinals during the offseason, missed the 2007 season due to shoulder surgery. He hopes to return to the form he displayed for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. (Associated Press file)

Offseason signee may not be ready to join the Cardinals' starting rotation at the beginning of the season.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Matt Clement does not consider himself a historian, but when the St. Louis Cardinals called during the offseason, the significance of playing for his third consecutive storied franchise was noted.

"I don't take lightly the history of playing for the Cubs, the Red Sox and now for the Cardinals," Clement said. "Not only [did I] get to play for those three cities, but play for them in competitive times.

"There are not many people who can say they played for the Cubs and the Red Sox when they had a chance to win the World Series."

Clement, who has not pitched since the 2006 season, signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Cardinals in January with a club option in 2009. He was coming off three seasons in Boston in which he made 44 starts, was selected for one All-Star team, but sat out the 2007 season after major shoulder surgery.

The Cardinals, looking for help with Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder still recovering from surgeries, called, and Clement wasted little time.

"I told my agent if a team that was high on my list three years ago gives what we think is a fair offer, I'm taking it," Clement said. "And St. Louis was one of the first ones that stepped up and got serious."

Clement was hoping he'd be ready for opening day, but pitching coach Dave Duncan decided to alter Clement's schedule this week to increase his arm strength.

Duncan does not believe Clement will be ready for opening day, but is hopeful he'll be on the mound.

"He's behind," Duncan said. "How far? I don't know yet."

But Clement remains upbeat. He is happy with his progress from the Sept. 26, 2006 surgery, which was far more involved than he believed going in. Clement had major repair work on his rotator cuff.

"I had stuff going on, a lot more than the MRI showed," he said.

Still, since throwing in the high 80s in October in the Instructional League, the progress has been steady.

"To be able to even step on the mound and do what I'm doing, the fact that everything healed the proper way and I was able to get through the motion, I think a lot of people questioned that I was able to do that," Clement said.

Those were not the only questions. During the 2006 season, when Clement admitted to "biting his lip" with every pitch in his last four starts to deal with the pain, some wondered if he should be doing more to earn the three-year, $25.8 million contract he signed before the 2005 season with Boston.

"Nobody ever came to my face and said it," Clement said. "Somebody asked me last year in spring training if this guy or that guy came and apologized. I said, 'If they said it, they're the ones eating their words.' I never expected anybody to apologize for it."

Clement would not say if he knew of anybody specifically within the Red Sox who questioned his heart, but he did say winning the 2007 World Series helped ease the disappointment of the last two seasons, even though he was not on the field.

"I know I wasn't on the team, but you're a part of that group of people," he said.

Clement made at least 30 starts for seven consecutive seasons and pitched at least 200 innings in three of those. He has won at least 10 games five times and finished with nine wins twice.

The secret was an effective sinker and slider and a ball that moves, something Clement noticed when he started playing baseball as a child.

"He has a lot of movement," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He doesn't throw anything straight. It's always going in some direction."

Clement was aware of more than the history behind the Cardinals. Another lure was the success Duncan has had during his 12 years in St. Louis, especially with pitchers coming off injuries.

Carpenter, who missed the entire 2003 season after shoulder surgery and won the Cy Young two years later, is the shining example.

"I just want to be a major league pitcher again," Clement said. "I don't need it to show people they were wrong. One of the things that frustrated me most in Boston was that was the first time in my career that I haven't lived up to my contract.

"I might not have been the best, and there are a few years where I might not have earned every dollar I've been paid, but I always took the ball."

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