PHILADELPHIA — The Detroit Tigers will face a couple of old friends, infielder Kody Clemens and left-handed reliever Gregory Soto, in their three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Clemens struggled in his short stint with the Tigers, but he has been a surprise contributor for the reigning National League champions.
“I got some consistent playing time, as of late, so it’s been good to relax in the box and try to be myself,” said Clemens, primarily a first baseman. “I don’t really start against lefties, but I’m always in there against righties, which is great. Other than that, I’m ready off the bench to pinch-hit.”
Clemens, who hit .145 in 56 games for the Tigers as a rookie in 2022, closed his batting stance to decrease his movement at the beginning of spring training. Injuries opened the door for his return to the big leagues.
The 27-year-old — a third-round pick in the 2018 draft — is hitting .253 with four home runs, six walks and 26 strikeouts in 29 games this season. In his past 22 games entering Monday, dating back to April 23, he has a .299 batting average, .356 on-base percentage and all seven of his extra-base hits.
Clemens has leaned on Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long for advice along the way.
“He’s obviously an unbelievable hitting coach,” Clemens said. “We talk about seeing the ball and staying quiet in the box without a lot of movement. My swing and stance, it’s all pretty similar to what it was last year. I’m just not as open as I was.”
The Tigers traded Clemens and Soto to the Phillies in January for infielder Nick Maton, catcher Donny Sands and outfielder Matt Vierling. It was the most noteworthy trade to date in the tenure of new baseball operations president Scott Harris.
Before Monday’s game, Soto checked in with former teammates Miguel Cabrera and Javier Báez. The 28-year-old, a two-time All-Star closer, has a 5.25 ERA with 12 walks and 27 strikeouts across 24 innings in 27 appearances out of the bullpen.
“It feels nice,” Soto said of his first season with the Phillies. “I know (Nick) Castellanos from before (with the Tigers). It feels like a family here.”
In 2023, Vierling is hitting .241 and has produced -0.2 fWAR, and Maton is hitting .162 while producing -0.5 fWAR as everyday players with the Tigers. Sands is hitting .244 with one home run in Triple-A Toledo.
Soto and Clemens have been worth 0.4 fWAR apiece for the Phillies.
“Less movement, but I really haven’t been changing anything,” Clemens said. “I’m just getting consistent at-bats, having a good approach, trying to see the ball, swing at good pitches and make good swing decisions. It’s been good.”
Getting their rings
Maton and Vierling — drafted and developed by the Phillies — returned to Citizens Bank Park on Monday for the first time since the Phillies lost to the Houston Astros in the 2022 World Series.
The former Phillies received their National League championship rings before Monday’s game.
“It’s weird,” Vierling said of his return. “Everything is odd. It’s weird, but it’s cool at the same time.”
Maton played 34 games (plus one game in the postseason) for the Phillies last season, while Vierling competed in 117 games (plus 12 games in the postseason). Vierling hit .154 in the playoffs.
So, what was Vierling’s favorite moment with the Phillies?
He immediately recalled Bryce Harper’s two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series. The homer to left field at Citizens Bank Park sent the Phillies to a 4-3 victory and their first World Series since 2009.
“I would say Bryce’s home run,” Vierling said. “Rhys’ (Hoskins) home run off (Spencer) Strider (in Game 3 of the NL Division Series), that was a really good one. For me, personally, I had a walk-off one time, and that was a lot of fun, but the team stuff was more important in the playoffs.”
Vierling won’t be active for the series against the Phillies, but he is getting closer to coming back from an injury. He landed on the injured list May 30, retroactive to May 29, with lower-back soreness.
“Definitely trending up,” said Vierling, who hopes to return over the weekend or early next week. “I’m hitting a little bit, throwing a little bit, running a little bit. I’m still working out the kinks a little bit, but I’m feeling better.”
Right-hander Matt Manning has recovered from his right foot fracture and will throw his second live batting practice Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. After that, he is expected to begin a rehab assignment.
The 25-year-old was hit in the right foot by a comebacker April 11 against the Toronto Blue Jays. He posted a 4.63 ERA with three walks and seven strikeouts across 11⅔ innings before the injury.
Left-hander Tarik Skubal — returning from left flexor tendon surgery — started Sunday for High-A West Michigan in the first start of his rehab assignment. It was his first time pitching in a game since Aug. 1, 2022.
He tossed two scoreless innings on 12 pitches.
“He felt really great, which is the big key,” Hinch said. “It was about as much of a success as we could have asked for, given that we knew the A-ball kids were going to swing a ton. The last thing we wanted was a 20, 25, 30-pitch inning that’s too close to the major-league competition. We put him in A-ball, and he got to get a little extra work in the bullpen (after his start).”
His fastball averaged 96 mph.
“Velocity was really good, breaking ball was really good,” Hinch said. “He gave up a hit, which is always fun on a rehab assignment. He paid for dinner, that’s always mandatory for the big leaguers. But the best news I got was that he felt awesome.”
Both pitchers were placed on the 15-day injured list.
Rodriguez, 30, has a left index finger pulley rupture, while Faedo, 27, has right middle finger discomfort from a hangnail. Rodriguez, who owns a 2.13 ERA across 11 starts, could be sidelined for roughly 10 weeks.
Prospect wins award
Double-A Erie infielder Colt Keith, a 21-year-old prospect, was named Eastern League Player of the Month for May. He hit .374 with seven doubles, one triple, six home runs and 27 RBIs in 22 games for the SeaWolves. That included a May 16 game in which he hit for the cycle while going 6-for-6 with two home runs.
Keith led the Eastern League with a 1.107 OPS.
“The award is awesome for the kid to feel success in your league when you get recognized as being the best player for that particular timeline,” Hinch said. “I think it’s just as important for him to get better on defense and figure out how to be a well-rounded offensive player and things like that.”