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ON BASEBALL

Stand-up guy should sit down

TORONTO -- Give the guy credit.

He's been beaten like a drum the past two times out.

There's obviously something wrong with his right ankle, which was hit by a Bernie Williams liner last Wednesday, and it is changing his mechanics. And yet Matt Clement won't give in to a built-in excuse for his recent woes.

Admit to having a bum leg.

If you told us Clement will go on the disabled list, we wouldn't question it.

If you told us that he spends his non-baseball time getting help from sports enhancement coordinator Dr. Don Kalkstein, who now travels with the team to help Clement deal with being hit in the head by a line drive last July, who would doubt it?

Who would deny that such a traumatic play has made Clement gun-shy, thrown off?

Who wouldn't believe that last Wednesday's line drive perpetuated and magnified his problems?

After a 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays last night in which Clement allowed six runs on seven hits, there has to be something wrong.

Trainers came out to look at Clement's leg after Edgardo Alfonzo's ground ball out in the fourth. Jason Varitek thought he saw Clement pull up on his right ankle. Even the catcher thinks he sees something physical.

Clement probably has never lived up to his potential, but he's never been this bad. The Blue Jays might have the best offense in the majors, but they're a team Clement can make look silly if he is himself.

There's a lot of sentiment these days to replace the ``T" at the end of Clement's last name with an ``S." That might solve a lot of the Red Sox' problems. But the fact remains that Clement makes $9 million a year, and anyone taking home that paycheck has to be one of your most reliable pitchers. And that simply isn't happening.

Clement's paycheck is about as big a waste in Boston as A.J. Burnett's the 15th of every month in Toronto.

Burnett has an excuse. He's hurt.

Clement, a stand-up guy, won't say publicly that he's hurt, and he continues to take a boatload of criticism.

He lasted 3 1/3 innings last night, his shortest outing of the season. He's allowed 14 earned runs in his last two starts, covering 7 2/3 innings (16.45 ERA), and last night he allowed two home runs, a two-run shot by Vernon Wells and a solo homer to Lyle Overbay. In five of his 10 starts, he has not gone six innings.

``You know what, I'm going to stand here and take the blame for what happened," he said. ``If I ripped a muscle in my back or my arm or my leg, I'd still take the blame. It's just how I am.

``You play this game and you have to figure out a way to go out every fifth day. When things don't go right, you can't blame it on something else. It's my decision to go out there and pitch, and whether I'm hurt or not, I'm going to find a way to go to battle."

If Clement is trying to win over teammates with his toughness, he should just forget it. Going out there when you're hurt isn't productive.

``This game was very embarrassing," said Clement. ``There's no excuses for that. You can't put your team in a bad situation like that. I've got to find a way to figure out how to get back to what I was two starts ago in Philadelphia and keep it. I'm bouncing all over the radar right now. I figured I let the team down.

``The `L' should be beside my name and nobody else."

Pitching coach Al Nipper remembers getting hit in the groin with a line drive, and he went out the next time, chalking it up as ``part of the job description." But come on. These are human beings, with human frailties. Your worst nightmare as a pitcher is getting a line drive hit off your noggin or your face, as happened to former Sox pitcher Bryce Florie. It's tough to shrug those things off.

Kalkstein was asked whether he could help pitchers who have had their brains scrambled by line drives hit back at them. Kalkstein, who will not speak about anyone specifically because of client privilege, said the player would have to come to him, that he would never approach the player. But he said he has discussed with pitchers the effects of being struck with a line drive in the past.

With David Wells down, it's noble of Clement to pitch hurt, but he needs time to get his head back on straight. Give him a two-week vacation. Maybe he can give the Sox a good second half after a disastrous first half.

``When things go wrong, they go wrong in a bunch," said Clement. ``It's been a rough week for me. I've got to hold my head up high, battle, and figure out a way out of it."

Clement went to three balls on eight of the 19 batters he faced. His pitch count rose drastically to 86 after throwing 28 in the fourth.

This is a guy whose delivery is not right.

``I don't know," he said. ``I don't think it is [the ankle], but if it was, I probably wouldn't say anyways. It's not a thing with an injury. I've just got to figure out how to execute better.

``I've gone through stretches longer, but to have two disastrous outings like this . . .

``I recall times where I've spent eight or nine starts in a funk, in a situation like you've got to find a way to find a silver lining. I just have to remember it wasn't long ago that I threw the ball well. I know I'm just going to work my butt off to get where I need to be."

Give up the fight for now, Matt. You need to get healthy.

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