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Clement ready for fresh start

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The schedule called for Matt Clement to be introduced to the media Thursday, the day pitchers and catchers reported here for spring training.

But, with David Wells set to take the mike midafternoon, and Curt Schilling poised to follow, the media deemed that news enough and told the public relations staff to bump Clement a day.

"Fine by me," said the 30-year-old righthander.

Ideally, the two veteran pitchers with 35 combined major league seasons will provide a similar diversion for Clement come April, allowing the $25.5 million free agent pitcher to ease into his career with the Red Sox. He could use the assistance, given the vacuum created by the departures of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

"It's not a thing you can go out there and not think about," said Clement, a western Pennsylvania native. "I'm going into one of those spots in the rotation. The onus will be on me to do the job. But to think about that now would be getting a little bit ahead of the game."

That said, Clement cannot wait to take the ball in April, given the way his career in Chicago ended. He had not missed a start in three seasons as a Cub but was bumped from Chicago's rotation following his Sept. 20 start at Florida, in which he allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings. That escalated his September ERA to 7.36, following an August in which he posted 5.60.

"At this time of year," Clement gracefully said at the time, "it's not about me."

He did not appear once in the Cubs' last 13 games. The team went 6-7, missed the postseason by three games, and Clement found himself shopping for a new home. But Clement claims to feel quite capable under pressure, contrary to what he's hearing.

"I just found out about this knock when I signed here," he said. "I've pitched in the NLCS and won. I pitched in the first round and lost the year before. I've pitched in pennant races. Everybody's entitled to their opinion.

"All I can do is prove them wrong."

Lost amid Clement's late-season plunge were his results in relation to his fellow Cubs. Clement (9-13 last year) managed an ERA lower than Greg Maddux (3.68-4.02), pitched 62 1/3 more innings than Mark Prior, and made eight more starts than Kerry Wood.

Yet his frustration grew as the season progressed. He ranked 78th in the majors in run support, at just 4.03 runs per game. Conversely, Schilling (7.54) and Lowe (7.24) ranked first and second. Among Clement's 30 starts, the Cubs scored just two runs on five occasions, one run on three occasions, and were shut out four times.

"That question has been asked a lot," Clement said of his lack of offensive help in Chicago. "I have to do my job. I imagine the history of this offense is they're going to score a lot of runs. Hopefully, that's the case, and I'm not going to make too much of an issue about the run-support thing."

Manager Terry Francona, when asked about Clement's mental makeup, put it this way: "If we score eight runs a game, and he gives up three or four, I think his mental makeup will be fine."

The dearth of offensive help probably cost him three to five wins, leaving him in some unwelcome company. Of 31 starting pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA, he was one of five with a losing record. Of those 31, only two -- Los Angeles's Odalis Perez (7-6) and Arizona's Brandon Webb (7-16) -- won fewer games.

"I think this is the year that Matt Clement becomes the 18- to 20-game winner he's always had the ability to be," Schilling said.

Money aside, Clement cited not run support or Schilling's sage presence as his prime reason for coming to Boston. Rather, he cited Jason Varitek.

"As a pitcher, when you're sitting around and watching games, you say, `Hey, I'd like to throw to this guy,' " Clement said. "He's one of the guys who has come up often.

"It was a huge factor for me. When I started getting advice from different people not involved in the situation, people not trying to push me to their place, I had many people that were credible that I played with in the past that had nothing to do with the situation point out him and say how great he was going to be and how much he'd help [me].

"I'm excited to get to work with somebody who is as intense as he is and cares so much about the game."

The two met for the first time yesterday and played catch briefly. He said he's watched Varitek play live only once. Clement has pitched in Fenway Park just once, with Florida in June 2001, limiting the Sox to two runs and no walks in 6 2/3 innings, gaining the win.

"I pitched in Fenway with the Marlins, so the intensity level wasn't at it highest peak," said Clement, who was a teammate that season with Kevin Millar. "It was the middle of the season. I was excited to go there."

Fenway, compared with Wrigley Field?

"Wrigley was a pretty exciting place to pitch every fifth day," Clement said. "I feel I'm a pretty lucky person to get to spend three years in Wrigley, two in a championship atmosphere, then get to come into Fenway for a championship atmosphere for hopefully the three years. There's not too many pitchers who can say they've pitched in both places with the level they're at right now."

Clement nearly became a Red Sox last July, when his name surfaced amid the Nomar Garciaparra trade rumors.

"I felt it was really close," Clement said. "Obviously, it would have been nice to be here and be part of the team.

"Coming from the Cubs, in a similar situation, talks of curses, not being able to get over 80, 90 years of not winning, for me it's exciting to come to a group of guys who were able to do it, knowing the pressure that was on them. Coming from where I'm at, it's the same deal."

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