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Don't Call It A Comeback
INF Jeff Clement's Spirit Remains Strong Despite Setbacks
08/29/2011 3:26 PM ET
INF Jeff Clement returned to Indy on August 1 after a lengthy period of injury rehab.
INF Jeff Clement returned to Indy on August 1 after a lengthy period of injury rehab. (Bill Gentry)
Jeff Clement was supposed to have it all.

He was named first team All-America in his junior season at USC. He was the Johnny Bench Award winner, given to the nation's top collegiate catcher. He was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2005 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, pegged to be the next great All-Star catcher.

But a slew of injuries has halted the once can't miss prospect. Clement has played in just 129 career major league games.

Now Clement finds himself in a similar predicament. After a knee surgery that sidelined him for nine months, Clement is trying to revive his career with the Indians.

"To be able to get back on the field this month has just been great," Clement said. "I was just happy to be healthy enough to get back on the field and play. I've done some things well with the at-bats that I've gotten, which has been great. I'm a long ways from what I've been at the past year, that's for sure."

Last September brought upon the biggest setback of Clement's injury-riddled career. After recovering from another knee injury, Clement suffered a strained oblique while rehabbing in Indianapolis. The Pirates elected to shut him down for the rest of the season.

But while Clement was on the disabled list, tests revealed that Clement's left knee had a microfracture. That meant Clement would have to have surgery, which would be followed by a lengthy rehab period unlike anything he had ever experienced.

Hours on end would be spent in a Constant Passive Motion Machine, bending Clement's knee as he lay on his back. Clement spent six to eight hours a day, every day for six weeks constricted to this machine. It wasn't exactly the way the new father wanted to spend his offseason.

"The first two months were miserable," Clement said. "It was bad. I had a one and a half year old son at the time and my wife was seven months pregnant. It was tough because my son would want to play and I couldn't move."

The Marshalltown, Iowa native wore a knee brace the following eight weeks. Five years removed from being projected the savior of the Mariners organization, Clement was now 28, with his prime years slowly slipping away. While his mobility was limited, Clement devoted time to finding his spirituality.

"My faith is the most important thing to me in everything," Clement said. "I had never been to a lower point in my career. It allowed me to put even more emphasis on my faith and get into the Bible more. Without question, that carries me through all of it."

A newfound faith and a family by his side allowed Clement to push through the enduring rehab process. Early projections during his rehab had Clement slated to be available around the All-Star break. Yet as of June, Clement had still not picked up a bat since before his surgery.

Then Clement got the long-awaited okay to resume baseball activities.

"Nine months was forever," Clement said. "When I first heard that they were going to let me start swinging again I was really excited. That's when I really felt that there was an end in sight."

Clement was activated on the Indians roster on August 1. Still not 100 percent, Clement came in early to continue his rehab exercises and get some one-on-one instruction from Indians Hitting Coach Jeff Branson.

Getting an opportunity to reunite with Branson is one that Clement said has made a huge impact.

"Without question, I don't think there's another hitting coach that I could have right now where I would have as much success as I've had on the field than Branson."

The duo that has worked together in each of the last three seasons hit the ground running. While the physical aspect of getting Clement's swing back was emphasized, Branson said the mental approach is where it starts.

"The biggest thing we worked on was his mentality to try and relax his mind, which therefore relaxes his body and helps his timing," Branson said. "There's no doubt he can still hit."

Though he admitted he is usually a slow starter, Clement is hitting .278 in 54 at-bats for the Tribe since being activated in the beginning of the month. Recently, Clement's at-bats have been limited with Pedro Alvarez being optioned to Indianapolis and All-Star Matt Hague taking up the corner infield positions.

However, Clement has provided the Tribe with power from the left side off the bench, something Branson said they haven't had all year. The Indians infielder even had a pinch hit walk-off fielder's choice on Aug. 19 vs. Louisville to snap a five-game skid.

He may not be penciled in as an everyday starter for now, but Clement has made his presence felt in Indianapolis. Clement figures to be in the mix as a designated hitter as well with series against American League affiliates coming up. Branson said no matter where Clement is in the lineup, he always comes to work with the same mindset.

"He has urgency every day," Branson said. "There is drive in him. You can see it. He's not ready to shut this down."

The guy who was labeled a bust by multiple publications is determined not to let his career be defined by injuries. While he refuses to dwell on the past, Clement is cognizant of the expectations he has yet to reach.

"Professionally, to this point of my career, it's been nowhere near what I expected of myself or what other people have expected," Clement said. "But at the same time, there's been a lot that I've learned from it. There's been a lot of great things to take from it."

Clement isn't bitter that the team that drafted him gave him less than half a season at the major league level to prove his worth. Clement isn't bitter that he was forbidden to swing a bat for nine months. Clement isn't even bitter that torn meniscuses and a microfracture has eliminated any chance of him being a catcher again.

But Clement believes that everything happens for a reason. He's got a wife and two little boys that will support him whether he goes 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. He has grown from his experiences and will use them for whatever lies ahead in his career.

"You learn more about your character through your failure than your successes," Clement said. "That's not saying I wouldn't have liked to have a lot more success to this point. But I don't feel like I'm done either. I feel like I've got a chance to get back out there and to really get the most out of the talent I've been given playing baseball."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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