MLB: Kody Clemens Finding Success In Philadelphia

Kody Clemens of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the top of the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park on May 19, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Cubs defeated the Phillies 10-1. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

By Jon Caroulis
World Baseball Network

PHILADELPHIA – Few fathers see their son rip a walk-off hit in the Major Leagues and a few days later retire the side in order from the mound. 

Pitching great Roger Clemens witnessed both when his son Kody singled in the ninth inning on June 8 to defeat the Detroit Tigers. He then took the mound two days later to save some bullpen arms in a lopsided Phillies loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

It was a double thrill for the 27-year old to not only to give his team the victory, but do it with his father at the ballpark.

“Absolutely,” said the younger Clemens. “(My father) had come up for the weekend, and for the game to kind of wind up like that, especially versus the Tigers, it was a pretty cool moment for me.” It was the first walk-off hit of his career.

A third round pick in the 2018 draft, Clemens batted .145 with the Tigers last season. In January, he was part of a five-player deal in which Philadelphia shipped outfielder Matt Vierling, infielder Nick Maton and catcher Tommy Sands to Detroit for Clemens and closer Gregory Soto.

Clemens had an outstanding spring training, but was one of the Phillies’ last cuts, and began the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

“It’s the business of baseball,” said Clemens. “The roster fell the way it did out of spring training. I did really well, I’d shown the guys that I was capable of playing, and unfortunately it didn’t fall my way, but you just have to keep your head up and keep grinding. You have confidence in yourself and the time will come.”

“I knew I was going to be a part of this team at some point during the year, so that kind of kept my hopes up,” he said. 

By early April the Phillies were down two first-basemen: starter Rhys Hoskins tore his ACL and Derek Hall suffered a hand injury that required surgery. 

“You don’t ever want to see that, see my teammates go down, but that gave me the opportunity,” said Clemens. 

He started slow, but has been one of the team’s most consistent hitters. A left-handed swinger, he plays first base against southpaw starters.

Kody is the third of Roger Clemens’ four sons, all of whose names all begin with the letter ‘K,’ a nod to dad’s proclivity for striking out batters –  4,672 of them over his career, good for third on the all-time list.

At Memorial High School in Houston, he batted .553 his senior season. He was the team’s shortstop, and switched to closer when his team was ahead. Despite his family pedigree, he never considered being a pitcher. 

“I was 88 to 90 (MPH) with a flat fastball, and it plays in high school for sure, but it does not play at the higher levels,” he said laughing. But that did not mean the end of his mound appearances.

At the University of Texas, Clemens hit poorly as a freshman and lost a year to Tommy John surgery, but when he returned he batted .352 with 23 home runs. 

In 2018, Detroit selected him as the 79th player overall in that year’s draft. 

In three minor league seasons in the Tigers organization, he showed some pop with the bat, but his batting averages fluctuated between .231 and .288. Clemens made his major league debut May 21, 2022.

He started slowly when he joined the Phillies, but since April 23, Clemens is batting .310 with four home runs. He credits working with hitting coach Kevin Long for his 2023 performance.

“We talked a lot about it, what I wanted to do, what my approach was going to be this year,” he said. “My natural swing is still the exact same (swing); that’s just out of habit, how I grew up swinging the bat, but kind of just narrowing up a little bit, not to be too open. My main objective was to quiet down my stance so I could see the ball better, see it longer, make better swing decisions, so I just kind of got some consistent at-bats as of late, that’s really helped me relax at the plate.”

Phillies manager Rob Thompson said cutting Clemens in March was tough. 

“He had a great spring training. It wasn’t because he didn’t play well, it was because we didn’t have a fit,” Thompson said. “We needed a right-handed hitting center fielder for that last (roster) spot. That’s the only reason he went down, and when Derek Hall got hurt we had a spot for him, and he’s played very well.”

That’s not to say that Clemens’ success was the surprise upside to his acquisition.

“We’d gotten reports from Detroit, they thought he was a better hitter than last year, so that hasn’t surprised me all that much,” said Thompson. “The thing that surprised me the most is how good he is, versatility wise, he plays everywhere and he plays them pretty well.”

Clemens has also helped the team by saving bullpen arms. He’s made four relief appearances, three of them in blowout losses to the Dodgers. 

“You never want to do it because you know you’re behind in the game. It’s something you don’t want to do, but at the same time when I’m up there, I think it’s kind of fun personally, just to get to toss the ball in,” he said. “I never thought I’d get a chance to pitch in a big league game. You never want to do it because you’re losing and it’s embarrassing, but at the same time…. you’ve got to save the bullpen.”

Along with his flat fastball, Clemens throws an “air cutter,” which he grips so the air makes the ball cut even while traveling only 50 miles per hour.

But like many role players, Clemens’ future is uncertain. Bryce Harper has been practicing at first base, and Derek Hall is already rehabbing at Triple-A. Will Clemens keep his role?

“We’ll see,“ said Thompson. “Derek Hall has to perform, too, and he knows that, and if he doesn’t, and if Kody’s still performing, we’ll figure it out.”

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