Phoenix — Kody Clemens was 4-for-34 when he stepped to the plate in the sixth inning of a 3-3 game Saturday night. There were two runners on and he was facing Diamondbacks lefty Joe Mantiply.
Clemens is a left-handed hitter and had only five at-bats against lefties in his brief time in the big leagues. Mantiply, on the other hand, had never allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter in 96 games.
Guess what happened.
Clemens launched a 1-2 curveball into the seats in right field, his first major league home run, breaking the tie and sending the Tigers to a 6-3 win over Arizona, their second straight at Chase Field.
“Good time for the first one,” Clemens said afterward, fresh and clean after the celebratory baby powder, protein shake and yogurt shower. “It felt amazing. I haven’t been getting in there. I’m trying to figure out what my role is on this team…I got the bid in the lineup tonight so I was going to try to everything I could to help us win.”
It was his fifth start since June 10. He’d only had 20 plate appearances since then before Saturday. He’s one of the first players on the field every day doing extra defensive work, getting as much time in the batting cage as he can get.
He’s even stood at the plate while pitchers are throwing bullpens to simulate at-bats.
“I’ve been working my ass off every day doing everything I can do to be in the lineup,” he said. “It’s good to see it pay off.”
Clemens had to be a little bummed that he didn’t get into any of the games in Boston, where his father Roger Clemens had so much success and where Kody spent a lot of time growing up.
Manager AJ Hinch was certainly conscious of it.
“He’s been grinding,” Hinch said. “He never has a bad attitude. He hasn’t played a lot this past week. I didn’t get him in at Fenway and his family was all there. But he just waited his time and came up with a big swing.
“When a guy makes it to the big leagues and he contributes in a win, that’s when you feel like a big-leaguer. He should tonight.”
It was a good night for the kids.
Rookie Riley Greene made a sensational catch in the sixth inning, taking an extra-base hit from Buddy Kennedy. The ball was smoked into the gap in right-center, leaving Kennedy’s bat at 99.8 mph. It traveled 349 feet and had an expected batting average, according to Statcast, of .470.
Greene tracked it into the gap and caught it on a full-layout, superman dive.
“I got a really good jump on it but I didn’t know if I was going to get it until I actually caught it,” Greene said. “I knew Rey-Rey (right fielder Victor Reyes) was going to be there to back it up. He gave me the chance to lay out for it. If I didn’t get it, he was there to throw it in to second.”
Later, in the seventh, Greene took a hit away from Josh Rojas with a sliding catch in short left-center.
“It was amazing,” said Clemens, who has been witnessed to countless spectacular plays by Greene in the minor leagues. “He’s just an unbelievably talented player. Did it surprise me? No. It didn’t. He’s just an unbelievable player.”
Another rookie, Alex Faedo, made his 10th start of the season. How many had him making any big-league starts this year before say, August or September?
Put your hand down, you’re lying.
Faedo, in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, didn’t throw live batting practice until the middle of February. He started his season at Low-A Lakeland. He only made one start (five innings), at Triple-A Toledo before the Tigers, with four-fifths of their rotation on the injured list, called him up.
Best to keep that perspective when assessing his four-inning performance Saturday.
He breezed through the first three innings, showing a lively slider and a four-seam fastball that was ticking up to 96 mph. Then in the fourth, he started spraying pitches and losing his balance on the mound.
“He was struggling to find much of anything,” Hinch said. “He was kind of evading the strike zone and that’s a bad recipe going through the top of their order.”
Faedo ended up walking two, giving up a 411-foot, two-run home run to David Peralta and an RBI double to Daulton Varsho. He got out of the inning without any more issues, but he was at 75 pitches and Hinch gave him the quick hook.
Might need to get used to those.
“He’s coming off Tommy John,” Hinch said before the game. “Remember, he started in Lakeland. I think we have to give him a little leash here. I’m proud of him. He’s talented and he can do a lot of positive things here. But I’m always going to be monitoring him.”
Faedo was beaten up pretty good in two previous starts, allowing 11 runs and 17 hits in 7 1/3 innings, with hitters feasting on his four-seam fastball (.349, .628 slugging).
“He’s also been a little fatigued in my opinion,” Hinch said. “He won’t say it, but I will. As we freshen him up and get to the break, you’ll see a better fastball.”
The Tigers are going to be hard-pressed to freshen up any of their pitchers going into the break. Beginning Tuesday, they will play 19 games in 17 days. Tough task to get through that stretch and still keep a wary eye on the workloads of Faedo and fellow rookie Beau Brieske.
An awaking offense would certainly help ease some of the pressure.
Harold Castro, starting at first base to give Spencer Torkelson a night off, had three hits, including an RBI triple. Javier Báez had a pair of hits and scored a run.
The Tigers, with a little help from the D-backs, scored twice in the fifth to tie the score at 3. Tucker Barnhart walked and Victor Reyes doubled. Both scored on an error by Kennedy at second base.
Greene hit a broken-bat grounder and both the severed bat and the ball were coming at Kennedy. He didn’t catch either and both runners scored.
Miguel Cabrera climbed another rung on the all-time hit list, too. His single in the seventh was No. 3,053, tying Rod Carew for 27th place.
And another hat-tip to the Tigers’ bullpen. After covering the final 3 2/3 innings Friday night without allowing a hit, it locked down the final five innings.
After Tyler Alexander pitched two scoreless innings, Joe Jimenez struck out two in the seventh. It was the eighth straight multiple-strikeout game for Jimenez. That’s the third longest such streak since 1901.
Drew VerHagen was the last to do it in 2019.
Michael Fulmer posted his 12th straight scoreless outing in the eighth.
Gregory Soto closed it out, punching out two and earning his 14th save.
“It was a lot of arms to use, but well worth it when you win,” Hinch said.