Slugger Clement cycles in Indianapolis

Pirates farmhand cites divine intervention in accomplishment

By Andrew Pentis / Special to | June 2, 2012 7:25 PM ET

Triple-A Indianapolis infielders Jeff Clement and Brian Friday were in the training room the night before Saturday's home game when their conversation turned to hard-hit balls landing in gloves. A night earlier, they combined to go 1-for-8 -- lining out, one after the other, to third base in consecutive innings -- in the Indians' series opener against the Syracuse Chiefs.

The teammates discussed how ballplayers indulge silly superstitions in hopes of ending a slump or kick-starting a streak. Then Clement, making a leap, proposed "something different, something that makes sense" to reverse their fortunes at the plate.

"Maybe we pray for hits?" Clement, a first baseman, said to Friday, his second baseman and roommate on the road.

"We're both Christians. It's going to glorify God if we do it."

This was Clements' thinking in the wake of something special. The veteran slugger became the sixth Minor Leaguer this season and third in the 16-year history of Victory Field to hit for the cycle while driving in a season-high three runs in his Indians' 7-3 victory over the Chiefs.

"For the first time in my life, I prayed for hits," he said. "I wouldn't suggest anyone else do it, but I don't think it was any coincidence that this happened tonight. I'm pretty humbled."

Whatever the cause, whether it be divine or merely of the diamond, Clements sprayed his hits all over the field. Batting cleanup, the left-handed hitter doubled in the second inning and singled in the third off starter Tanner Roark. Clement slugged a solo homer on a 2-1 offering from right-hander Erik Arnesen in the sixth.

"I watched him warm up," Clement said, "and he threw me something out over the plate."

How aware he was of his cycle-in-progress is not up for debate.

"I wasn't even thinking about it," he said. "I didn't even realize I needed a triple."

The 28-year-old delivered the two-run three-bagger -- his first since June 25, 2010 and just his eighth in eight Minor League seasons -- on the first pitch he saw in the seventh from left-hander Atahualpa Severino.

"The gap is 418 [feet] here to left-center and I probably hit it 415," Clement said. "I wasn't even thinking of going three since I'm so slow. I turned around and saw the ball in the gap and [thought], 'If I can't get to third on this ball, I'm really slow.'

"I got to third and our third-base coach, Jeff Branson, high-fived me. Then a Syracuse coach came over and asked, 'Was that for the cycle?' I said, 'No.' Then I got to thinking and realized that it was. If I had known [beforehand], I probably wouldn't have squared the ball up so well."

Friday, who has been victimized by well-struck lineouts of late according to his roommate, singled and walked in four plate appearances, bringing his batting average to .200.

Clement said he didn't pull off the cycle at Marshalltown High School in Iowa or at the University of Southern California before the Mariners picked him -- as a catcher -- with the third overall selection in the 2005 Draft. He said he might have cycled when he was 8 or 9 years old.

The last Indian to accomplish the feat was batting leadoff Saturday night. Alex Presley pulled it off on June 27, 2010 against Toledo.

On Clement's historic night, Presley went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer, while Pirates' No. 3 prospect Starling Marte, who fell a double shy of cycling Friday, smacked a run-scoring single in three at-bats.

"I was here when [Presley] did it," Clement said. "I remember wathcing him do it. As soon as I came in the dugout, I told him, 'It didn't seem that long ago that you did it.'"

Clement is actually in the midst of his fourth season in the Pirates organization. Each year since 2009, he has played at least 22 games with Indianapolis; his stints have been interrupted either by a big league callup (he played 54 games with the Pirates in 2010) or injury (he underwent microfracture surgery on his knee the following offseason, permanently shifting him from behind the plate and limiting him in 2011).

With the way his numbers look, he could be headed back to Pittsburgh. Clement has hits in eight straight games, raising his average to .307. He's also finally feeling fit.

"I'm very encouraged," Clement said. "Now that the knee is healthy, I feel like I'm capable of doing the things I'm capable of doing."

Overshadowed, Indians starter and No. 9 Pirates prospect Jeff Locke (4-3) contributed seven innings of two-run ball. From his vantage point at first, Clement said Locke, who recorded six strikeouts and 10 groundouts, was using his sinker to success.

Roark (3-7) yielded three runs on six hits over five frames.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at AndrewMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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