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The Rocket Concedes Nothing
TOM VERDUCCI
June 25, 2007
While age and a dip in velocity conspire against the newest, oldest Yankee, Roger Clemens remains as hardheaded as ever
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June 25, 2007

The Rocket Concedes Nothing

While age and a dip in velocity conspire against the newest, oldest Yankee, Roger Clemens remains as hardheaded as ever

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"You have to understand coming in that you're going to get into two or three predicaments that you have to get out of. So when you get in them, you don't blink. You just go back to making good quality pitches and you go from there."

Most often, it is the splitter that rescues Clemens from trouble. "He has such confidence in that pitch that he'll throw it at any time," says the Mets' Wright. "He threw me a 3-and-0 split--with a runner on third base. Now that's having confidence in the pitch.

"I didn't even bother watching video [on Clemens] before this game. You know why? He always stays away from pitching to patterns. You're not going to pick up that kind of stuff on him."

Says one National League scout who has seen both of Clemens's starts, "He's primarily a fastball-splitter pitcher; 80% of his breaking balls are going to be first-pitch, get-it-over pitches to lefthanders. It's mostly a case of locating his fastball to sell the splitter. He's the same way with his splitter that Randy Johnson is now with his slider. It's their primary pitch and they have to be able to spot their fastball to set it up. Neither one is dominant like they used to be, but they are solid number twos or threes in anybody's rotation. And I think you'll see Roger, as he makes more starts, gain a couple of more clicks on his fastball with a little more finish to it, that late life."

Clemens' plan of attack relies less on velocity than on what he calls "creating my angles"--though he proudly claims, "Oh, that 95 [mph], it's there. I can get that now if I need it. I can go there two, three times if I need to." His two-seamer, which has a darting, sinking action, and his splitter, which is cloaked in a two-seamer's clothing only to dive more sharply, are designed to be thrown low. His four-seamer occupies higher airspace.

"Right now I'm pitching in a comfortable spot--90 to 92 is plenty," Clemens says. "But what I really want to continue to do is to be down in the zone when I want to be and up in the zone when I have to be. It's no different than 10 years ago. You move guys' eye levels."

Says teammate Mike Mussina, "He hadn't pitched in how many months? Six or seven? And he can have this kind of command in just two starts back? Now that's impressive."

Clemens's stamina has also been surprising. After throwing 104 pitches through six innings against the Mets, he was given the choice by Torre on whether to continue. Clemens said he would. He retired the leadoff hitter, Julio Franco, on a ground ball but left after the next batter, Carlos Gomez, bunted for a base hit.

Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was 18 months old when Clemens made his major league debut. "The first time I met him was right before his first start [against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 9]," Cano says. "He went around the clubhouse and shook people's hands and said, 'Hi, I'm Roger Clemens.' It was exciting to meet him and to play with a Hall of Fame player like that. He's bigger in person than what I thought."

Indeed, Clemens had so little time to get to know the Yankees who weren't his teammates in New York four years ago that shortstop Derek Jeter made a joke of it before Clemens threw his first pitch that day. Jeter walked up to the mound and said, "Seems like old times, Rocket, doesn't it? This is pretty cool. By the way, that's Robinson Cano at second base and Josh Phelps at first base and. . . ."

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