Saturday, July 21, 2007

Countdown to Liftoff: The Rocket Report

In case you’ve been under a rock the past two months, sure-shot Hall of Fame inductee Roger Clemens returned in early June to the New York Yankees.

Whether it will be triumphant or not is yet to be seen.

He agreed to a one-year contract for $28,000,022 -- the last two digits matching his uniform number -- that will start when he is added to the major league roster for his first start, most likely in three to four weeks. Clemens will earn about $18.5 million under the deal, which will cost the Yankees approximately $7.4 million in additional luxury tax, meaning they are investing about $26 million in a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who will turn 45 in August.

While you could talk about his contract, or Yankee spending altogether, for days upon end…that isn’t the approach this article wishes to take.

"Roger Clemens is a winner and a champion, and he is someone who can be counted on to help make this season one that all Yankees fans can be proud of," owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "The sole mission of this organization is to win a world championship."

In case you didn’t know (thank you Yahoo! Sports), Clemens helped the Yankees win World Series titles in 1999 and 2000, then left after the 2003 season intending to retire. But when Andy Pettitte signed with the Houston Astros, Clemens also joined their hometown team. The Rocket retired again after the 2004 and 2005 seasons, only to re-sign the Astros both times. Pettitte changed the dynamic when he rejoined New York this season. Clemens had limited his field to the Yankees, Astros and Boston Red Sox, his original team. But when Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks, spoke to the Astros and Red Sox in recent days, they said they'd prefer he join up with them in late June or early July. The Yankees, according to Hendricks, said: "We'd like you yesterday."

"Make no mistake about it, I've come back to do what they only know how to do here with the Yankees, and that's win a championship," Clemens said. "Anything else is a failure, and I know that."

While it’s still early in the 2007 campaign for the Rocket, it’s also quite interesting to analyze just how well, or perhaps not so well, Clemens and the Yankees have fared since June 9th (his debut).

Especially since it appears as if Clemens is netting nearly $1-million a start. Yep, the math adds up somehow.

June 9th: (home) Pittsburgh Pirates
-Clemens pitches 6 innings of 3 run/5 hit ball. The Yanks ride a strong offensive showing to a 9-3 victory and a weekend sweep of the Pirates. Clemens Ks 7, although has a shaky opening few innings.

Prognosis: Positive. Clemens kept the Yanks in the game and earned his first victory for the Yanks.

June 15th: (home) New York Mets
-Clemens is outdueled by Oliver Perez (who goes 7 1/3 with only 5 hits), yet appears to be gaining momentum as he only allows 2 ER and strikes out 8. Jose Reyes does touch him up for his first home run of the young season. It was a tough 2-0 loss during the series opener for the Yanks.

Prognosis: Still positive. Giving up 2 runs in 6+ is exactly what Roger was paid to do. The Yankee bats, especially against the youthful Perez, was the real disappointment on the Friday opener of the series (of which the Yanks took two).

June 21st: (away) Colorado Rockies
-Just when things appeared to be turning around for the Yankees, a trip to Coors Field plunged them into 3rd place and a near disastrous 3-game sweep. Clemens couldn’t get out of the 5th inning, giving up 4 earned runs en route to his second loss. The
Rockies won the game 4-3.
Prognosis: Negative. Clemens was considered a shoe-in for the victory against the Rockies. He fell flat on his face and seemed to show stamina issues early and often.

June 24th: (away) San Francisco Giants
-Mike Mussina continued to struggle for the Yankees; yet, the real story was the bullpen entrance by the Rocket to go face-to-face with Barry Bonds. While the flashbulbs were definitely ready, a 5-pitch walk and only an innings worth of work (with 1 run given up on Bonds scoring on a sac fly) was all Clemens managed in a rare relief appearance.

Prognosis: Negative. The moment could’ve been cool, but Clemens barely flirted with the strike zone. Torre was wise to give him work though. Losing 2 of 3, this one the worst of the two at 7-2, in the Bay Area was another NL West-laden disappointment for the Yanks.

June 27th: (away) Baltimore Orioles
-Once a whooping child for the Rocket, the Orioles continued to press the Yankees as they took their fifth of six games from the Yanks this season 4-0 (one game has been postponed until a later date with the Yanks leading in the 8th by a run, though). Clemens went 6 but his ERA hit 5.32 (its highest all season) as he gave up 4 runs in 6 innings.

Prognosis: Highly negative. The Rocket’s tally was pushed to 1-3 while he failed to strike out a single Oriole batter. Skeptics abloom in New York as the Yankees were a baker’s dozen out of 1st-place.

July 2nd: (home) Minnesota Twins
-Talk about a statement game. Clements led the Yanks to a key 5-1 victory with his most satisfying performance of this year’s campaign. A box score reading 8 innings, 2 hits, 1 ER, and only 1BB (he only K’d 3 though) was more than enough to give the New York media a chance to shower Clemens with praise once again.

Prognosis: Much more positive. It was a key performance in a key series for the Bronx Bombers. With Wang picking up the pace and Mussina perhaps righting the ship, the Rocket seemed to be stepping up as a leader for the staff.

July 7th: (home) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim [what a horrid name, by the way]
-The Angels, the kryptonite of the Yankees over the past several seasons, only took this game during a 3-day stay in the
Bronx. Angel ace John Lackey and the vaunted Angel bullpen allowed Anaheim to take the game 2-1 in 13 innings. Clemens couldn’t be blamed at all however. He had gone 8 innings (again) while only surrendering 5 hits, 1 ER, and avoiding almost any potential trouble with relative ease.
Prognosis: Positive. It was a loss, but Clemens threw some of his best stuff in a real pitcher’s duel. The Yanks took the Friday and Sunday games, partly because of the confidence in Clemens showing up on Saturday (which he did) in an extremely important pre-All Star weekend series.

July 13th: (away) Tampa Bay Devil Rays
-With 6 days of rest, in-between the All-Star Game festivities, Clemens lost the only game of a four-game tilt in
Tampa. The Devil Rays, winning their only game 6-4, hit up Clemens for 5 hits, 5 ER, in a little over 5 1/3 innings. Clemens appeared a little flat and the offense only mustered a paid of solo shots in the 8th to try and spark a late comeback. Again, Clemens gave up runs early (this time in the 2nd inning) and appeared to scatter baserunners as best he could (the D-Rays scored 3 runners on sac flies/ground outs).
Prognosis: Incomplete. After a longer than usual break, even a loss at Tampa isn’t a nuclear meltdown. However, Clemens will have to be a consistent spark down the stretch. Especially since the Yankees have an AL East-heavy schedule and will need their 45-year old fireballer to be a consistent performer as they attempt to enter the thick of the wild-card, and maybe even potentially, the AL East races.

July 18th: (home) Toronto Blue Jays
-Clemens may have given up nearly double-digits in hits (9), but only gave up 1 run (he K’d 3 and gave up 1 BB) in 6 innings of work. It wasn’t until a 7th-inning rally, fueled by A-Rod, that the Yankees overcame a 1-0 deficit and ended up with a 6-1 victory. Clemens provided plenty of gusto throughout the start, working as hard as he had all season to keep the Blue Jays off of the scoreboard while the Yankee bats remained quiet for the initial 2/3 of the game.

Prognosis: Positive. While it’d be unfair to claim the Devil Rays game was simply an off night, this performance did go to show how much stability the Rocket, when he is near his best, can bring. Getting key groundball outs shows that even though his strikeouts might not reach double-digits often, Clemens can still get the key outs when he needs to.

Stat-Line: 2007 season for Roger Clemens
2-4, 3.88 ERA, 34 Ks/15 BBs, 1.24 WHIP.
-The Yankees are 3-4 in games in which Clemens is a starter.
-The Yankees are 0-1 in the only game in which Clemens entered from the bullpen.
[Yes, I know all pitchers usually come from the bullpen, whether starters or relievers.]

Next Up:
Clemens will not have a return affair this upcoming weekend with the D Rays. After taking 3 of 4 in a pivotal Bronx-laden series against the Blue Jays, the Yankees see themselves with one of their easier stretches in the schedule.
(4 at home vs.
Tampa, 3 at KC, 3 at Baltimore, 3 hosting the ChiSox, and 3 more hosting KC)

Clemens could easily be penciled in for 3 or 4 quality starts, as he often is by the media (and Yankee management), fair or not, every time he takes the mound.

With the Red Sox 19-21 over their last 40, the Yankees have clawed their way back to 7 games back (6 in the loss column) in the AL East and 6 back (5 in the loss column) of the Wild Card chase.

While they’ve flirted with such a run only less than a month ago, clearly the next few weeks, especially with Clemens hopefully hitting a near mid-season groove in the coming month or two, will be imperative for the Rocket, the Yankees, and the investment made in each other.

Either way, it should be interesting to see how everything plays out.

Until next time…

1 comment:

Chris Clement said...

With Yankee bats still ablaze since the All-Star break...Clemens anchored the Yanks to a series opening victory on the road against the Royals.

With Boston and Cleveland entangled in a key 4-game set at the Jake (in which Boston took the opener, behind the return of Jon Lester, 6-2)...the Yankees really needed to strike a solid first-blow against KC.

With Wang, Mussina, and Igawa to follow (pencil in Pettite as the only non-top 5 starter pitching in this series)...Clemens did his thing during a 9-2 victory.

The game was relatively close, for the most part hovering around 4-1, until a big 9th for the Yanks.

Clemens's line looked like: 7 IP, 4 Hits, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, and 1 HR given up.

Solid work, as should be expected for the money and given the other team, for the Rocket. Baltimore, a nemesis thus far this season for Roger and the Yanks, awaits this weekend.