Clemens time: Robbie Grossman’s injury forces Tigers to make hasty call for top prospect

Detroit News

Detroit — This would have made for a good scene in the movie Bull Durham.

The Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens were caravanning from Toledo on Monday morning, some driving their cars, some on the team bus, to Columbus for a Memorial Day game. Back in Detroit, the Tigers learned early that outfielder Robbie Grossman’s stiff neck hadn’t improved and he’d have to go on the injured list.

The call was going out for No. 17-ranked prospect Kody Clemens, but nobody quite knew where in the caravan he was.

“They were all spread out within a 10-mile radius,” Tigers’ skipper AJ Hinch said. “We had to get a hold of the bus to find out if his equipment was on it or not. Kody was in a separate car. The coaches were in a separate car. They all ended up meeting somewhere — I think Bowling Green.”

Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon turned his car around and doubled back about five miles so he could give Clemens the news in person. He was going to the big leagues.

It was a mess for a minute, but it all worked out.

“Kody has earned this promotion,” Hinch said. “He’s played very well this season, especially against right-handed pitching. I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. And obviously we have opportunity here. If he can come up and do what he did at Triple A it’ll be a nice boost for us.”

Clemens, a left-handed hitter who had been under discussion for call-up a couple of of times this season, was slashing .283/.316/.527 at Toledo with nine doubles, six triples, eight home runs and 31 RBIs.

“We did talk about him a couple of times, but there has to be a clear path to playing time,” Hinch said.

That has been tricky because Clemens’ natural position is second base where Jonathan Schoop is firmly entrenched. The infield utility position has been locked down, too, by Harold Castro.

Clemens, though, has made himself more available by moving around the diamond, playing first base, third base and corner outfield.

“We’ve been very careful about when we were bringing him up,” Hinch said. “Putting him on the bench might make you feel better, but it might not make you any closer to winning. Now we’re going to force him into the lineup a little more.”

Hinch will have to be creative.

“Replacing Robbie, who is all outfield, with an infielder is a challenge,” he said. “But it’s his bat that got him here. (The defensive alignments) will change every day. Harold Castro will play more outfield. Kody will play some outfield. Willi Castro will shift to right field a little bit.”

Except for the Twins’ Devin Smeltzer on Tuesday and the Yankees’ Jordan Montgomery this weekend, the Tigers are in a stretch where they are facing mostly right-handed starters. Clemens was hitting right-handers at a .318 clip with an OPS of .944 at Toledo.

“I love the baseball acumen,” said Hinch, who notified Kody’s father Roger Clemens of the promotion. “The kid is a baseball player, a little bit of a throwback. He competes, sticks his nose in there and will not back down. But we don’t need him to be a superman. He’s not the answer to all of our problems.

“This is an opportunity for him to elbow his way into the big leagues for the first time. And he’s earned it.”

Clemens was expected to arrive at Comerica Park around noon. He was not in the lineup Monday, but Hinch said he would not hesitate to use him off the bench.

Grossman out

The hope was that after a night of treatment, Grossman would be ready to play Monday. But the left side of his neck, which spasmed during the game Sunday, was still stiff. With the Tigers in a stretch of 16 games in 17 days, they couldn’t wait even a day or two to see if the issue cleared up.

“We can’t play short,” Hinch said. “This IL placement is part symptoms — he can’t turn his neck. But it’s also where we’re at on the schedule with so many games being played in a short period of time. We have a couple other guys who are dealing with something, too.

“We needed to make an aggressive move. Robbie can’t function, that’s the main issue.”

Injury updates

Grossman is the 13th player on the Tigers’ injured list, and that doesn’t include Miguel Cabrera, who sat out his second straight game with tightness in his lower back. Hinch said he expects Cabrera to be in the lineup in Game 1 of the doubleheader Tuesday.

There was some encouraging news on the injury front Monday, though.

► Lefty starter Tyler Alexander was scheduled to make his first rehab start with Toledo in Columbus on Monday. He’s been out with an elbow sprain. He was expected to work three or four innings.

► Reliever Will Vest also will work an inning in Columbus. It will be his first competition since coming off COVID-IL. The Tigers have until June 2 to activate him.

► Outfielder Riley Greene (broken foot) was taken off the injured list Monday and sent to Toledo to effectively start his season. The expectation is Greene will need at least another five weeks to get fully back into game shape.

► Outfielder Austin Meadows (vertigo) is taking live batting practice in Lakeland and could begin a rehab assignment as early as Wednesday.

► Outfielder Victor Reyes (left quad) was scheduled to a running test Monday. If he passes, he will be cleared to start playing rehab games this week.

► Starting pitcher Casey Mize (elbow) resumed his throwing program Sunday.

► First-base coach Gary Jones stayed on the bench Monday, still hobbled by a line drive he took off the ankle from Jeimer Candelario on Sunday. Mike Hessman took over the first-base coaching duties Monday.

Twins at Tigers

First pitch: 1:10 and 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

Scouting report

Game 1

LHP Devin Smeltzer (1-0, 1.04), Twins: This will be his fourth start and he’s allowed just two runs in 17 innings with opponents hitting .175. He doesn’t throw a pitch harder than 89 mph, but he keeps hitters off-balance primarily with a four-seam, curve ball and change-up mix.

RHP Rony Garcia (0-0, 3.00), Tigers: Hitters are slashing a meek .159/.221/.333 against him with a 32% strikeout rate. His curveball has been especially nasty. Hitters are 3 for 20 with 10 strikeouts and a 36.6% swing-and-miss rate against it.

Game 2

TBA, Twins

LHP Joey Wentz (0-1, 20.25), Tigers: He is expected to be added to the roster as the 27th man. His big-league debut on May 11 went awry quickly. He lasted only 2.2 innings. He’s made two starts at Toledo since, covering seven innings. He’s allowed three runs, but punched out eight with just two walks.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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