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Rushing return hurt Clemens

An injury suffered wearing Scranton's home whites will keep Roger Clemens out of the big club's pinstripes for a while. An injury suffered wearing Scranton's home whites will keep Roger Clemens out of the big club's pinstripes for a while. (JEFF ZELEVANSKY/REUTERS)

It went unspoken, but it had to be in the back of everyone's mind: What if Roger Clemens just can't cut it physically? What if, at age 44, as strong as he is, as hard as he works, his legs just go?

Clemens has been scratched from his scheduled 2007 debut tomorrow in Chicago. He was going back to Tampa for work with the trainer and to get an examination by the doctor for what he called a fatigued groin, which has set back his return indefinitely.

"I'm happy and appreciative that he told us," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman following the team's 11-6 loss to the Red Sox yesterday. "I think a lot of people who would be in position to have a money grab would do it . . . that's not him. He's a team player.

"He feels he's almost ready. He's not going to take anything for granted. He knows we're counting on him."

Cashman went so far as to say, "I think it sends a message to people who think he's a hired gun. He didn't go for a money grab at this point, he went for what was right. We'll adjust and we'll go forward."

Cashman said that Clemens told him "he feels pretty optimistic that it's not a big deal." Cashman said at this point he had no idea how long Clemens will be out. Clemens isn't on the 25-man roster, so he is working under a minor league contract. His prorated $28 million contract will kick in when he joins the big club.

Clemens tweaked his groin last Monday while pitching for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in his third and final rehab start. In the following days, he found that he hadn't improved with treatment and rest. The Yankees were criticized by some for their unwillingness to pitch Clemens against the Red Sox this weekend, but as it turns out, he couldn't have pitched anyway.

That, of course, was not the reason given by Yankee management for keeping him out. Manager Joe Torre indicated he did not want to disrupt scheduled starters Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte, who had been unable to get into a regular routine until recently.

The injury may not validate the team's reluctance to delay Clemens's return -- when the pitcher, the fan base, and the media all felt Clemens should have started against Toronto instead of Toledo. Clemens said he had geared himself up to start against the Blue Jays and that he had accelerated his routine in case the Yankees needed him to be ready sooner.

Now it appears that the acceleration could very well have led to the injury.

Surely, at age 44, any pitcher would be more susceptible to injury, but Clemens has a long history of groin problems dating to his days with the Red Sox. During his mediocre seasons with the Sox from 1993-96, he suffered from leg injuries (hamstring and groin) that forced him to curtail his running program and led to weight gain.

It was easy to see that Clemens was overextending himself this spring. He spent 10 days in Tampa working out hard. Once he got into a game, he wound up throwing more than 140 pitches before, during, and after the start.

In his second start, with Trenton, Clemens threw 102 pitches. In Scranton, he threw 89 pitches, and that was after walking off the mound after the second inning with a bit of a limp.

Clemens's return has been linked to a potential renaissance by a team in desperate need of a shot in the arm. Clemens would have been the Yankees' fourth solid veteran starter.

As it stands, they must call upon Kei Igawa to return from his tour of the Yankee farm system to join the rotation. He is a far cry from Clemens, the man they thought might save their season.