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Clark’s Body Aches, But He’s Feeling Good About a Big Return

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Padre first baseman Jack Clark’s face, littered with six stitches, still is sore and swollen. His lower back still is aching because of an inflamed disc.

Yes, his body might be crying, but his spirits, Clark said Tuesday night, have never been better.

“Really, I feel pretty good considering everything that happened,” said Clark, in his first interview since suffering a broken left cheekbone Friday night in New York. “I’ll be back a lot sooner than people think.

“I’ll just have to watch out for flying baseballs and hand grenades.”

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Clark, who was released Monday from Scripps Hospital, said he will be able to resume batting practice again Thursday, and expects to return to the lineup before the Padres’ home stand ends June 14.

“I know I’ve missed some time,” said Clark, who has missed the past 21 games, “but that’s in the past. You can’t change games you’ve already lost.

“There’s still more than a half a season left, and the way I look at it, I can put up numbers in a half-season that a lot of guys can’t put up in a whole season.

“I’ll be heard from before this season is over, believe me.”

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Yet, despite the injuries Clark has suffered the past few weeks, the only thing that dampened his spirits the past few days was finding out Tuesday night that the Padres’ game against the Philadelphia Phillies was rained out. It will be rescheduled Sept. 1 as part of a doubleheader at Veterans Stadium.

“Oh, well,” he said, “I guess I’ll have to check out the Mets-Reds game on TV instead. I’ve got to do something while I’m laying here.

“Who knows, maybe this latest thing was a blessing in disguise. Maybe I would have come back too soon and hurt my back again, and I would have been out all year.

“This way, I know I’ll be fully recovered when I come back, and hopefully I won’t have to worry about my back.”

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Clark’s medical problems began May 5 in Chicago when he dived for a ground ball. He thought he twisted the back, and played the remaining six innings of the first game of the doubleheader, and then the entire second game.

He soon learned, however, that he had an inflamed disk in his lower back, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 6. His recovery time was set back a couple of days when he pinched a nerve in his back while bending over to put on his socks.

Then, after taking live batting practice this past Friday for the first time since suffering the back injury, he was running sprints in the outfield when he was hit by a ball thrown from the outfield by reliever Pat Clements. It caught Clark flush in the cheekbone, fracturing his bone in three places.

“It was my fault more than anybody else’s,” Clark said. “I was probably running in an area where I shouldn’t have been running. The most important thing is that there wasn’t any damage to my eyesight. I had everything tested, and I’m fine.”

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Clark said he will ask to be fitted for a special-built batting helmet upon his return, to protect the left side of his face. It still will be another three weeks before the bone is mended, and until then, Clark must take precautions.

“I just have to be real careful I don’t get hit there again,” Clark said. “I’m sure I’ll be leery about taking ground balls for a little while, it’s just something that I’ll have to battle through.

“But believe me, I’ll be fine. The guys have done a super job picking me up, and when I get back, it’ll be my turn to pick them up.”

Padre Notes

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The Padres have started calling pitcher Andy Benes, “The Rainman.” Benes, who was scheduled Tuesday, has had two of his starts rained out this season, and two rain delays in games he has pitched. “It’s becoming automatic,” Benes said. “Guys look out their hotel window, see it’s dark and cloudy, and say, “Hmm, Andy must be pitching tonight.” Benes will start at 4:35 p.m. (PST) today against Bruce Ruffin.


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