01/28/09 4:35 PM EST
Clement, Maroth get chance with Jays
Pitchers out to prove they deserve spot in big league rotation
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays represent a fresh start for Matt Clement and Mike Maroth. Both pitchers plan on using Spring Training to prove they are recovered from their respective shoulder operations and that they are ready to rejoin a Major League rotation.
Toronto is affording them that opportunity.
"Those guys are going to come in and they've got an opportunity to win a job," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said.
The Jays currently have a pair of openings within their starting staff, but there will probably be room for Clement or Maroth. Currently, four jobs appear to be lined up for Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey and Casey Janssen. While the situation could undoubtedly change, Clement, Maroth and Scott Richmond will likely be the leading contenders for the final spot.
Before Clement and Maroth can emerge as front-runners for a place on the Opening Day roster, though, they'll have to prove to Toronto that they are indeed fully recovered from their surgeries. Strapped for cash and desperate for depth this winter, the Blue Jays signed both pitchers to Minor League contracts with the hope that they could find their former form on the mound.
This winter, the Jays lost A.J. Burnett to the Yankees in free agency, complicating the rotation situation. Toronto is also without Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) until at least May and doesn't have Shaun Marcum (right elbow) as an option until 2010. Those losses have created what Ricciardi described as "a shootout" for starting roles.
Ask either Clement or Maroth, and they'll tell you they are ready to pitch on the big league stage again.
"In my mind, I wouldn't have even talked to another team if i didn't think I could get back to the Major Leagues right now," Clement said in December. "I have a desire to prove that I can beat the surgery that I had. It was a very extensive surgery, and I still want to prove that ... there is something that comes out of the hard work."
Maroth shares that view.
"I'm hoping to be able to come in and make an impact and prove that I'm healthy," he said earlier this month. "Hopefully, I can earn a spot. With the Jays, there was an opportunity for me to pitch in big league camp and be able to prove that."
Clement, 34, underwent a procedure to repair the rotator cuff in his right shoulder following the 2006 season, when he was with Boston. He signed a one-year contract with St. Louis last offseason, but was ultimately released in August after making 16 rehab outings between three levels within the Cardinals' farm system.
Over a nine-year career, Clement is 87-86 with a 4.47 ERA, and he made at least 30 starts per season for seven straight years before encountering shoulder woes in '06. Clement's last full season was in '05, when he finished 13-6 for the Red Sox and was named to the American League All-Star team.
Clement said there were points during his rehab last season that he felt like he was nearly back at full strength. Those encouraging signs are what convinced Clement to keep pursuing a return to the Majors. He's also looking forward to reuniting with Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who previously worked with Clement during their time with the Marlins.
"There were enough glimpses for me of Major League stuff that I don't want to give up on something yet until I know that I can't pitch in the Major Leagues," Clement said.
Maroth, 31, is in a similar situation as Clement. The left-hander underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder on May 15 and is hoping to make his first trip up a big league mound in two years. Last season, shoulder issues brought Maroth's season to a close after he made just three starts for Triple-A Omaha, an affiliate of the Royals.
"My range of motion was pretty limited," Maroth said. "I just think over time, it was getting that way. Flexibility is so important to be able to throw a baseball, and it was causing irritation in my shoulder -- it was causing some problems. Last year, the arm just couldn't take it."
The last time Maroth suited up in the Majors was in '07, when the southpaw had stints with the Tigers and Cardinals. That year, Maroth finished 5-7 with a 6.89 ERA, bringing his career record to 50-67 with a 5.05 ERA in 161 games. In six big league seasons, Maroth has logged more than 200 innings twice, with his best season coming in '05, when the lefty had a career-high 14 wins for Detroit and posted a 4.74 ERA in 34 starts.
He's hoping he can show the Jays that he can be that type of pitcher once again.
"I threw for quite a few teams in December," Maroth said. "It just looked like the best opportunity to come in and make a team was with Toronto. Losing Burnett and a few other guys to injuries, there are some openings."
Coming Thursday: We'll take a look at a trio of prospects being mentioned in the race for the fifth spot. Left-handers Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brad Mills would have to show a lot this spring to earn a spot on the Blue Jays' roster, but the club certainly has them on its radar.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.