LAFAYETTE — There he was Tuesday night, Kyle Clement in the batter’s box, a sight for sore eyes.
The Louisiana-Lafayette senior center fielder went to the plate twice in the Cajuns’ 5-4 win against Nicholls State, drawing a walk and popping up to first base in his first plate appearances since a pitch from UNO’s Bryan Warzek broke a bone in his right forearm on March 1.
As the Cajuns (16-9, 6-3 Sun Belt) travel to Arkansas State (12-12, 3-6) for a three-game series, it appears Clement will be ready to return to full duty, and that is good news for the Cajuns.
“You always want that big stick like his back in the lineup,” said senior infielder Stefan Trosclair. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do coming in this weekend. It’s going to be a good weekend if we have him back in the lineup, he’s a great player.”
Clement was off to a great start this season before his injury sidelined him for 16 games. He was hitting .429 before the injury, with hits in six of his first seven games, including a 5-for-5 performance against Sam Houston State. In the five games before Clement’s return Tuesday, the Cajuns averaged 5.4 hits and 4.2 runs per game.
Outside of a few outbursts, including a three-game stretch where they averaged 14 hits and 11 runs per game, the Cajuns were not the same team offensively without Clement in the lineup.
But thanks to some outstanding pitching performances, the Cajuns managed to go 10-6 while one of their best bats watched from the dugout.
And Clement watched everything. He wanted to make sure he didn’t waste what little time he has left as a college baseball player.
“I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this (returning),” Clement said. “But it’s not always bad sitting out. I got to watch some games for about four weeks and really learn a lot. You can learn more than you think on the bench.”
Clement kept a close eye on the game from his seat. He tried to pick up the spin of pitches to catalogue what pitchers were throwing in certain counts. He worked on his timing, watching for the right time to load his weight on his back leg as if he were in the batter’s box.
He hopes that these mental exercises serve him well as he comes back from his broken forearm, but he’s not going to press if he doesn’t hit as well as he was before the injury right away.
“I’m not going to get discouraged,” Clement said. “I knew going into this that it’d be something I have to ease my way back into. My approach is still the same and hopefully I come back like I left off.”
Clement said that if the injury had to occur, he was glad it happened when it did. He still has a full half of the regular season to play, as well as however far the Cajuns make it in the postseason.
His original prognosis indicated he’d need four-to-six weeks to heal. Tuesday’s game against Nicholls State came exactly four weeks after the injury occurred.
“The younger kids I find to take longer, because they may have never had an injury like that before,” said coach Tony Robichaux. “A veteran like Clem, I think he’ll come back quicker because he has so much experience underneath him. I think he knows his body good at the age he’s at, and he’ll be able to give us good feedback on where he is.”
That last part is important. Robichaux said before Tuesday’s game that Clement had been cleared by doctors to return. He also said he’d leave it up to Clement as to when he’d make a return to the every day lineup.
So, ask Clement.
“I got two at bats last night and they both felt good,” Clement said Wednesday, the day after the Nicholls State game, “so I think I’m ready to go this weekend.”
• Cajuns: So. LHP Gunner Leger (3-1, 1.82)
• Red Wolves: Jr. RHP Tyler Zuber (2-2, 4.55)
• Cajuns: So. RHP Wyatt Marks (2-2, 4.85)
• Red Wolves: Sr. RHP Adam Grantham (1-2, 4.45)
• Cajuns: Fr. RHP Nick Lee (4-1, 3.15)
• Red Wolves: So. RHP Bryan Ayers (2-2, 5.13)
GET TO KNOW ARKANSAS STATE
Record: 12-12, 3-6
Batting average: .254
Earned run average; 4.35
Stat to know: Tanner Ring, Ty White and Garrett Rucker have accounted for 45 percent of Arkansas State’s 203 hits this season.
Top player: Ring currently owns the Arkansas State triple crown, with a .330 average, 4 homers and 20 RBI.
Last year: The Cajuns won two of three in Lafayette