'We've been on a roll': Cameron's clutch HR caps strong stretch

June 2nd, 2022

DETROIT -- The Tigers began this series with buzz about one former All-Star’s son’s arrival. They ended it with buzz about another.

While Kody Clemens made his big league debut Tuesday at Comerica Park,  has been around longer, trying to find a fit not only on Detroit’s roster but in its long-term picture.

The more clutch hits he delivers like Thursday’s go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning, the more pondering manager A.J. Hinch has to do to find him a spot.

“I think this is a new opportunity for him,” Hinch said after the Tigers’ 3-2 win over the Twins. “It’s the first time he’s really gotten pretty decent playing time, at least while I’ve been here. We’re watching him play in Triple-A, and we know he has confidence in Triple-A, but he’s starting to apply some things in the game [here].

“There’s still been some at-bats that he wants back. He’s really adapted well to right [field]. I think him being in one place has been better for him. Getting better pitches has been better for him. You get a big swing like this, you get to play tomorrow.”

The Tigers will visit Gerrit Cole and the Yankees on Friday, so getting to play isn’t entirely a treat. But Cameron will gladly take it. After beginning the season seemingly at a crossroads despite being just 25 years old, he is forcing his way into the lineup.

“[The key] always for me is just to be ready for my time when it's time to contribute to the team,” Cameron said, “and I'm glad to do that today.”

At-bats are big right now, especially with the decisions ahead for the Tigers. With their entire Opening Day outfield on the injured list --  and  in Detroit,  at Triple-A Toledo -- the Tigers have mixed and matched for weeks. Two-thirds of their starting outfield for the last two games were converted infielders in Clemens and Willi Castro. Harold Castro began seeing outfield time this week for the first time this season before filling in at shortstop the last two games. Yet, the Tigers took four of five from the Twins, their first 4-1 series win since 1988.

Meadows, sidelined with vertigo last month, is on a rehab assignment at Toledo and could rejoin the team next week in Pittsburgh. Grossman is showing improvement in his stiff neck and is eligible to return next weekend. , who was Detroit’s projected Opening Day center fielder before suffering a fractured right foot in Spring Training, is at Triple-A as well and is expected to make his long-awaited Major League debut sometime this month.

Hinch hasn’t had much to say about Greene, partly to let him work his way back on his own time, but also to let Detroit’s current outfielders focus on playing without looking over their shoulder.

Nobody is doing the latter better than Cameron.

“We’ve been on a roll,” Cameron said. “We’ve been putting in the work before the game and going out and performing. It’s starting to show out there.”

As Cameron talked, fellow Tigers outfielder Derek Hill was standing in the media scrum, smiling and listening intently.

“Hey, let the dog off the leash,” Hill said.

Cameron hit the longest drive of his career Thursday -- twice. His third-inning ball off Twins starter Chris Archer traveled 416 feet, according to Statcast, and had a .970 expected batting average. But it went to the deepest part of left-center field, where the shrubs meet the bullpen fence in front of the flagpole. It’s a huge amount of territory, but not too much for Byron Buxton to cover on his way to a catch.

“Baseballs die out there in this ballpark, especially in left-center,” catcher Eric Haase said.

When the Twins turned to closer Emilio Pagán in the eighth, Haase’s one-out single put the tying run on for Cameron, who had struck out chasing a cutter from Pagán last week.

Pagán went to the cutter again Thursday, but left it up. Cameron crushed it, a 420-foot drive to center field.

“The way the ball came off the bat, I knew it had a chance to go,” Cameron said. “Buxton, you never know with him out there. Sometimes he may jump over the wall and do an acrobatic catch.”

Buxton began chasing it, but he slowed up after a handful of steps.

“When he stopped running, I knew it was gone,” Harold Castro said.

Cameron’s first home run of the season was just the fifth of his career. Three of them have come in the eighth or ninth inning to tie the game or power Detroit in front.

“He did just miss one in his first at-bat,” Hinch said, “but boy, did he come up big at the right time.”