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Friday, June 14
Fastball, splitter key to Clemens' success

By Tom Candiotti
Special to

Editor's Note: ESPN analyst Tom Candiotti writes a weekly scouting report. Here is the former knuckleballer's book on New York Yankees starter Roger Clemens as he prepares to face the crosstown rival New York Mets in the middle game of a three-game series on Saturday at Shea Stadium.

Roger Clemens loves challenges. He will face a tough one when he pitches against the Mets. Much has been talked about since the Yankees-Mets 2000 World Series showdown. A Mike Piazza-Clemens showdown is what most people remember about that World Series. Both players will downplay this matchup but make no mistake, both guys want to win the individual battle between them.

Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens leads the American League with 107 strikeouts.

Piazza will be the patient one and let Clemens dictate the confrontation and Piazza will react accordingly. If Clemens tries to play the intimidation game with Piazza then we will very likely see a very entertaining matchup. I don't think this will be the case because Clemens is a complete pitcher. He can pitch for power, he can pitch with finesse, and he is just a great situational pitcher. He has an uncanny ability to make a great pitch when needed. When he needs a strikeout, he can get one. Rarely does Clemens beat himself by throwing the wrong pitch. He knows when to pitch around hitters and when to challenge them.

Clemens still attacks with his fastball, but he has complemented his fastball by throwing a splitter to also go along with his slider. His slider has become his third-best pitch and he doesn't rely on it much when he does get into jams. Clemens' style is very comparable to that of Curt Schilling -- using a power four-seam fastball that he will locate both inside and outside as well as up in the zone. If you see hitters struggling to get to it then he will "climb the ladder" on the weaker hitters, meaning he will keep attacking high and higher in the strike zone and above it.

He has fallen in love with his splitter over the last five years. It is a very effective pitch for him as hitters recognize the fastball, but by the time they commit to their swing it is dipping out of the zone. He goes with this pitch a lot when he gets in trouble or needs a strikeout.

Clemens has great command and control. He likes to pitch inside, which he does extremely well and he isn't afraid to hit a batter either. He will protect his teammates by retaliation, if necessary, which is why he gets great respect from his teammates.

Roger doesn't have many weaknesses. He will at times rely too much on his splitter. When you see him throwing a high volume of splitters it is because he is either pitching in trouble or he doesn't feel he has good velocity on his fastball. He gets in trouble when he loses his aggressiveness on the mound. He can be run on. He doesn't try to be quick to the plate from the stretch. He won't sacrifice his stuff just to get the ball to his catcher quicker. He will try and freeze potential basestealers by varying his move to first and his delivery to the plate.

Best approach
For the Mets to be successfull against Clemens they need to be disciplined. They need to make Roger throw his splitter for strikes and not chase it. They need to be ready for his fastball and not chase the ones he throws up in the strike zone. All this is easier said than done, but if the Mets get themselves in an aggressive swing mode Clemens will dominate them.

As for the Piazza vs. Clemens matchup in particular, look for Roger to pitch Mike away with his fastball. I think Clemens will be particularly cautious if he does come inside to Piazza. He won't come up and in especially since he will have to bat himself. That is the beauty of National League baseball. A pitcher can't get away with headhunting or hitting opposing batters because he will have to hit himself. If Piazza is willing to dive a little and try and take the outside away from Clemens as he did in their earlier encounters then we could see some good tight fastballs inside to Piazza.

Clemens won't tolerate hitters diving to get to his fastballs away. He believes the outside is his portion of the plate and if a hitter is going in "his" zone then he won't hesitate to knock a batter down or challenge him hard inside.

This battle between these two future Hall of Famers will always be fun to watch, but I think we've already seen all the fireworks between them already.

ESPN baseball analyst Tom Candiotti won 151 games pitching in 16 major-league seasons.

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