The seven-time Cy Young Award winner will look to build off a pair of impressive outings Friday night when the Yankees continue their four-game series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.
Clemens (2-3, 3.63 ERA) went eight innings in each of his last two starts before the All-Star break, allowing just one run in each. Last Saturday, he dueled the Angels’ John Lackey, who also gave up one run in eight innings, but the Yankees lost 2-1 in 13 innings to Los Angeles.
“I need to get my body ready, and hopefully there will be more of these types of starts down the road,” Clemens told the Yankees’ official team Web site. “That’s all I can hope for - do the work and prepare.”
The outing came five days after Clemens became the first major leaguer since Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves on Sept. 29, 1963 to win his 350th game in a 5-1 win over Minnesota.
Before that milestone win, however, Clemens had gone 0-3 with a 5.60 ERA in four games, including one relief appearance, after winning his season debut on June 9 against Pittsburgh.
“He seems to have his determination now, knowing that he has all his ammo,” manager Joe Torre told the Yankees’ site. “I think he has a feel about him now that he can pretty much do what he wants to do with his pitches.”
Clemens, who turns 45 next month, is 10-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 19 career starts against the Devil Rays, but has not faced them since 2003 - the last season of his first stint with the Yankees.
Clemens will be trying to boost the Yankees (43-43) over .500 for the first time since June 22. New York, which is 10 games behind AL East-leading Boston, kicked off the second half of its season Thursday with its sixth win in eight games, a 7-3 series-opening victory.
The Yankees entered the break under .500 at the latest point in a season since they were 60-61 on Sept. 5, 1995. However, they play seven of their next 11 against the Devil Rays (34-54), who own the worst record in the majors.
“You can’t get above it until you get to it,” said Torre. “Hopefully it’s just a place where we can sort of step from. I’d like to believe over the next couple of weeks we can establish something about who we are and not really think about records.”
Alex Rodriguez hit his major league-leading 31st homer in the fourth, and Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu also connected in the inning with owner George Steinbrenner watching from his suite at Tropicana. The home run was the 495th of Rodriguez’s career.
“The important thing is for us to win games. Every game is a big game for us,” Rodriguez said. “We need to be in urgency mode from day one.”
The Devil Rays, meanwhile, have dropped 14 of their last 15 games.
“It’s just one game in the second half,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ll come back tomorrow and play hard.”
They’ll hand the ball to Scott Kazmir (5-6, 4.41), who is trying for his first win at home in more than a year. Since throwing a two-hit shutout against Boston on July 3 last season, he is 0-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 14 starts at home.
Kazmir has struggled with high pitch counts this season, throwing at least 102 pitches in all but one of his 19 starts and leading the majors with 4.12 pitches per batter. However, he has not lasted more than six innings in any of his last seven, going 1-3 over that span.
He lost his third straight start on Sunday, throwing 105 pitches and allowing five runs in five-plus innings of a 12-4 defeat in Kansas City.
“Kaz just struggled again command-wise,” Maddon said. “We took him as deeply as we could. I did not want him to go beyond that number of pitches.”
Kazmir is 1-3 with a 3.69 ERA in seven career appearances, including six starts, against the Yankees. He has not received a decision in two starts against them this season, giving up a total of eight runs in 11 2-3 innings.