Las Vegas Must Wait for Clements : Baseball: After a good spring, Padre pitcher will start the season in the major leagues.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Padre reliever Pat Clements has already placed the calls to the Las Vegas real estate agents. He had been there plenty of times before, and knew the importance of nice accommodations.

Matter of fact, Clements had spent time in Las Vegas each of the past three seasons, and believed he would be back for his fourth stop with the Padres' triple-A team.

"I wasn't planning on anything different," Clements said. "I was just hoping I could make a good enough impression where they wouldn't forget about me once I went down there. Then, I'd take it from there.

"I mean, what were my chances making this team out of spring training?

"About zero.

"Maybe even less."

In a magical act that would make Siegfried and Roy envious, Clements not only has ascended from the dead, but has emerged as a lock to be with the Padres on opening day in Cincinnati.

Clements, who came along in the Jack Clark trade four years ago, has established himself as the best left-handed reliever on the staff this spring behind stopper Randy Myers.

Pitching in seven games this spring, Clements has become the talk of camp by yielding only eight hits and one run in 10 innings for a 0.90 ERA in "A" and "B" games. He not only has captured the attention of the Padres, but of scouts.

"Several teams have asked about him," said Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, "but frankly, we don't want to give him up."

It's funny what a vacant lot in Chico, Calif., can do for a career.

Clements, 30, who has not spent a full season in the major leagues since 1986, last winter built a pitching mound across the street from his home. He carted wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of dirt. Grabbed his shovel and level. And began forming a mound to specifications, complete with a piece of plastic rubber.

"It's been a savior," Clements said. "It's built just like a regulation mound, and when it rained, I even broke out a tarp. I got a lot more pitching in than I ever had before. (Former Padre pitcher) Eric Nolte even came up and used it a couple of times.

"It was great, just like the movie, 'Field of Dreams,' only a lot more weeds."

Clements, who underwent arthroscopic surgery last season to repair torn cartilage in his left shoulder while swinging a bat, worked out the entire winter to get back in shape. He pitched to a neighbor who worked for a pharmaceutical company. He lifted weights and ran with friends.

The Padres didn't bother protecting him on their 40-man roster, making Clements a free agent. Yet, Clements didn't search for new employers, and jumped at the opportunity to sign a triple-A contract with the Padres.

"I've already been traded three times," he said, "I didn't want to go another strange place with strange people. Besides, I didn't feel that comfortable coming off 14 innings pitched and surgery, thinking that someone would give me a job."

Besides, if it worked once, why not try again.

It was a year ago when Clements came to camp under similar circumstances. He was a non-roster pitcher. He had yielded a whopping 106 hits in 86 1/3 innings in nearly a full season at Las Vegas. Really, he was invited back as a favor.

"(Padre Manager) Greg Riddoch even told me later that his original plan was to take one look at me, and then release me," Clements said.

Clements, however, had an impressive spring, going 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA before being sent to Las Vegas. The Padres decided they needed another pitcher the first week of the season and recalled lefty Steve Rosenberg, only to learn he wasn't eligible because he had not been in the minors for 10 days.

Clements was the first alternate. He hurried to join the Padres before they changed their mind. He looked like he would stay, allowing only one earned run in 7 2/3 innings in his first five appearances, but on the afternoon of April 23, felt something pop in his shoulder while swinging a bat at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. He underwent surgery, returned to Las Vegas on a rehabilitative assignment, and made only five appearances with the Padres after being recalled in September.

"My wife and I knew it was time to start planning for life outside baseball," Clements said. "We lowered the mortgage payments on our house. We only have four months to go on the loans on our cars. I thought about going back to school."

The Padres, however, have different ideas. The way Clements is pitching, school will wait.

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