Clemens leads Team USA's roster

Clemens leads Team USA's 30-man roster into WBC

PHOENIX -- The Rocket has splashed down.

A nagging question was answered Tuesday when Roger Clemens, the future Hall of Fame right-hander, was named as one of four starting pitchers on the 30-man squad Team USA will field when it opens the World Baseball Classic on the afternoon of March 7 against Mexico at the newly christened Chase Field in Phoenix.

"These are a great group of guys and I've been looking forward to it ever since the details came across my desk," said Clemens during a conference call that included manager Buck Martinez and U.S. teammates Jake Peavy and Billy Wagner. "I needed a couple of weeks to see where my body was going to be and to get my mind right for this. I'm excited about playing with some of these guys I haven't had a chance to work with. We'll be ready to go."

USA Baseball, in conjunction with Major League Baseball, announced the players who are expected to participate in the first round against Mexico, Canada and South Africa. The roster doesn't have to be officially submitted until March 2, five days before the U.S. plays its first game.

"It's a pretty accomplished and talented roster," Martinez said. "We're all pretty pleased about it. The process of trimming down to 30 has been a very difficult one given the amount of talent on our [52-man] provisional roster. We feel this is our best foot forward with an opportunity to win this tournament."

The Americans open camp at the former Bank One Ballpark, the regular-season home of the Diamondbacks, on March 3, train for two days, and then play an exhibition game against the Giants on March 5 at Scottsdale Stadium, the secondary venue for the first round in Arizona.

The roster announced Tuesday includes the four starters, 10 relievers, three catchers, seven infielders and six outfielders, including some of the game's biggest stars: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark Teixeira, Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Derrek Lee, Chipper Jones and Jason Varitek, Wagner and Huston Street.

Clemens will join Dontrelle Willis, Peavy, and C.C. Sabathia in the rotation. And Martinez said that looking ahead to the opening round, Peavy would start the first game against Mexico and that Willis would follow him the next day on March 8 against Canada, also scheduled to be played at Chase Field.

Peavy pitched with Clemens on the MLB All-Star team that toured Japan in November 2004 and defeated its counterparts from Nippon Professional Baseball.

"I wanted to be a part of this," said Peavy, who ended last season with cracked ribs suffered during the Padres' celebration after they clinched the National League West title. "The competition is going to be pretty heated. I don't think anyone on Team USA wants to be embarrassed."

Clemens, who is currently a free agent, has spent the offseason trying to determine whether he'll play another year. He had back and hamstring injuries that hampered him the last month of the 2005 season, and, as a member of the Astros, left the first game of the World Series against the White Sox after one inning because he aggravated the hamstring injury.

The 43-year-old Clemens, who has 341 wins, 4,502 strikeouts and has played 22 Major League seasons, said he wouldn't make a decision whether he'll pitch in the Major Leagues again until after the event.

"A number of teams came down [to Houston] and talked to me while I was getting ready for these World games," he said. "I told them, 'I'll see how that goes, how my body responds and I'll make my decision accordingly after the fact.' My arm feels good, but my legs are taking a little longer than I expected to get in shape for this.

"It's the same questions I've had every year, this year being a little larger because my mom's final wish, before she passed last year, she didn't want me to continue with this grind."

The U.S. roster is heavy on relievers because of pitch counts and rest days set for the tournament. No pitcher can throw more than 65 pitches per appearance in the first round, 80 per appearance in the second round and 95 per in the semifinals or finals.

Thus, top closers like Wagner, Street, Brad Lidge and Brian Fuentes are part of the mix.

"With the talent we have and the pride we have in the United States," said Wagner, who recently signed with the Mets as a free agent, "it's going to be like playing in the Olympics."

The two winners in the Arizona pool go on to Anaheim to compete against the pair of finalists among the Asian pool -- Japan, South Korea, China and Chinese Taipei -- from March 12-16 at Angel Stadium.

The semifinals will be played March 18 at San Diego's PETCO Park, with the finals two days later on March 20 at the same site. The way teams have to backload the starting pitching for this type of tournament, there's no doubt Clemens will be on the mound if the U.S. is there for the championship game.

"We're going to have to be ready," Clemens said. "It's not like Spring Training when you can go out there, work three innings and give up four or five runs. It's a little bit different scenario. The other countries are going to come at us pretty hard when they show up and we have to be ready."

Rosters can be changed before the start of each of the succeeding rounds only in the case of an injury to a player. The remaining 22 players on the Team USA provisional roster submitted on Jan. 17 are eligible to sub in at that time. For argument's sake, even though Barry Bonds has said he would not play in the tournament, he still is eligible to replace an injured player later on because he remains on the provisional roster.

The Team USA roster breaks down as follows:

Starters (4): Clemens, Peavy, Sabathia and Willis.

Relievers (10): Chad Cordero, Fuentes, Todd Jones, Lidge, Joe Nathan, Scot Shields, Street, Mike Timlin, Wagner and Dan Wheeler.

Catchers (3): Michael Barrett, Brian Schneider and Varitek.

Infielders (7): Jeter, Jones, Lee, Rodriguez, Teixeira, Chase Utley and Michael Young.

Outfielders (6): Damon, Jeff Francoeur, Griffey, Matt Holliday, Vernon Wells and Randy Winn.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.