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Matt Clement knows he still has a long road ahead, but as first steps go, he took a big one on Tuesday night.
Pitching for the first time in nearly two years, Clement allowed one hit over six dominant innings as the Palm Beach Cardinals held on for a 2-1 victory over the Daytona Cubs at Roger Dean Stadium.
The 33-year-old right-hander struck out five without issuing a walk and got up to 88 mph with his fastball, mixing in cut fastballs and sliders. He threw 73 pitches and is expected to pitch again for Palm Beach in five days.
"For me to say this would happen tonight, I would be lying. I was hoping to feel good and feel like myself. To have this happen, it's a tremendous blessing," Clement said. "I'm kind of at a loss of words, but at the same time, it's the first step toward the ultimate goal."
Clement had not pitched since June 14, 2006 with the Boston Red Sox. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder three months later, beginning the 18-month process of getting back on the mound.
"I had a traumatic surgery," he said. "When you repair a couple of things in your shoulder, you don't know how it's going to go and how you are going to feel after 18 months."
The Cubs' only baserunners against the former American League All-Star were Yusuf Carter, who singled in the third, and Blake Lalli, who was hit by a pitch in the fourth.
"I was above-average with my control," Clement said. "I rely on movement in my pitches. To have good control is something you don't know you'll have when you start this process.
"It went good tonight. It's nice to be in that atmosphere and get the adrenaline going. But I still have a long way to go. I'm learning how to pitch again, learning how to compete every day."
Clement's wife and three sons were among the 707 fans on hand, adding to the drama.
"I'm lucky," Clement said. "I don't want to get too emotional or caught up in it. It's one A-ball game, but there are people who said I wouldn't be able to do this again. I'm excited, but I'll be more excited when I'm in the big leagues."
The Cardinals signed Clement in January to a one-year contract with a club option. He has an 87-86 career record with a 4.87 ERA over nine seasons with the Padres, Marlins, Cubs and Red Sox.
The win was his first in the Minor Leagues since 1998, when he pitched for Triple-A Las Vegas. He worked in extended spring training prior to Tuesday, but pitching under game conditions was entirely different.
"I thought I pitched like I used to pitch," he said. "Was I as sharp as when I used to pitch in the Majors? I don't know. I don't know if I'll ever be that sharp again. But I used my pitches. I was able to pitch inside. I did some of the things I'm going to have to do at the Major League level."
Eric Justic is a contributor to MLB.com. Matthew Leach contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.