Notes: Clement getting closer to return

Notes: Clement getting closer to return

ST. PETERSBURG -- The last 11 months of rehab could have been torture for Red Sox right-hander Matt Clement if he'd looked at the big picture. Instead, he chose to focus on the day-to-day tasks.

So he was understandably surprised to already be thinking about the opportunity to pitch for Boston again this season.

"I'm thrilled with the fact that I've put myself in the situation to be back [before the end of the year]," Clement said Monday. "But it's weird to even talk about the end of next month, and possibly pitching, and everything else, because the whole time I've been just worried about getting through the week."

It's a mantra that's helped Clement stay sane, as well as meet each and every one of his benchmark goals on the road back from September surgery to repair the rotator cuff and labrum in his throwing shoulder. On Monday, he took another step closer with a 50-pitch side session at Tropicana Field. Clement's diagnosis afterward was all positive.

"It feels normal," he said. "I can honestly say that it feels like it should feel. Like I want it to feel.

"I feel like I'm close to ready to pitch."

Clement admitted though that there's still things he needs to fine tune. His rehab schedule has him facing hitters in a batting practice session during the first week of September, and from there, he'll work his way forward.

As exciting as it is to be so close after so long, Clement said he understood his team is in a tight pennant race, which may mean he doesn't see action at the big league level this year.

"I'm respectful of what's going on [here]," he said. "It's definitely been a long haul ... but if we were up 15 games, maybe I'd have a little bit more say. I have to have their needs [in mind]."

Here's the question: With a 34-27 record on the road this season (.557), the Red Sox have the third-best record in the Major Leagues. Can you name the two teams with a higher winning percentage?

Welcome back: Tampa, Fla., native Kevin Cash started behind the plate at Tropicana Field on Monday night, marking the first time the former Rays backstop has played there since he was released by Tampa Bay on Dec. 5, 2006.

The newest member of the Red Sox had his contract purchased from Triple-A Pawtucket between games Friday after Doug Mirabelli was disabled with a strained right calf, and was eager to make a good impression in front of the hometown crowd.

Julio Lugo also came to Boston by way of the Rays' organization. The Red Sox shortstop, who spent 2003-06 with the Rays before he was traded to the Dodgers midway through last season and went from there to Boston, was tied for the American League lead with nine doubles this month entering Monday's action.

Entering Monday, Lugo had hit safely in nine of his last 10 games (16-for-38, .421), with seven doubles and 10 RBIs.

Quick hits: Boston's stronghold on the AL East had dwindled to four games by Monday, it's smallest margin since Aug. 13, but it's still the largest of any AL division leader. The Red Sox have led the East for the past 127 days. ... The next ball Manny Ramirez hits out of the park will mark the 13th straight season the outfielder has collected at least 20 home runs. Only 11 players in history have achieved that feat, and just one current player -- Atlanta's Chipper Jones. ... The Red Sox are hitting .288 in August (182-for-631), third-best in the AL, and are third in the league in team batting average since the All-Star break (.287).

Down on the farm: Devern Hansack fanned a season-high 11 batters over seven innings to send Pawtucket to a 2-1 win over Syracuse. Hansack's 123 punchouts lead the International League. ... Double-A Portland pushed two across with two outs in the ninth inning, but its rally fell short in a 4-3 loss to New Britain. ... Steve Garrabrants hit an inside-the-park home run that gave Class A Lancaster 200 homers for the season, a franchise record. The JetHawks won, 8-5, and are now just three long balls shy of the all-time California League record.

And the answer is: The Mets (38-26, .569) and Tigers (37-29, .561) have better road success than the Red Sox, who have lost four of their last six away from Fenway, and are 9-13 on the road since June 25.

On deck: The Red Sox return to Tropicana Field on Tuesday for the second game in a three-game set. Boston will send southpaw Jon Lester (1-0, 5.14 ERA) to the mound, where he'll face against Tampa Bay right-hander Andy Sonnanstine (2-8, 6.17). First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. ET.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.