Clemens making his case with clutch hit after clutch hit

Recalled to replace an injured Turner, 28-year-old plates go-ahead runs as Phils sweep Nats

May 19th, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- One day after his clutch game-tying home run in the Phillies' comeback win on Saturday night, once again provided a big knock in Sunday afternoon's 11-5 victory over the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.

But just the fact that manager Rob Thomson even sent Clemens to the plate might say as much about the 28-year-old's hot streak as his go-ahead two-run double itself.

With runners on the corners and two outs in a 3-3 game in the fifth, the Nationals went to Robert Garcia -- the only left-hander in their bullpen -- to face the left-handed-hitting Clemens. Typically, that would be a prime spot for Thomson to pinch-hit the right-handed-hitting Edmundo Sosa.

Instead, he stuck with Clemens, who entered the day 0-for-2 against left-handed pitching this season.

“He’s just been swinging the bat so well,” Thomson said. “… I thought, ‘Well, he’s swinging the bat well, he’s hot, might as well stick with him.’”

It paid off. After getting a break when a catchable foul ball landed harmlessly down the left-field line for strike two, Clemens ripped the next pitch into the right-field corner for a two-run double.

“It meant a lot,” Clemens said of the vote of confidence. “They switched the pitcher up, and obviously, it's a tough matchup, but it feels good to stay in there and have a good at-bat.”

With a 94.1 mph exit velocity, Clemens' double was actually his weakest-hit ball of the 10 he’s put in play over the past week.

“He’s just barreling up everything,” Thomson said. “He’s seeing the ball really well. He’s having really, really good at-bats.”

In a very limited sample this season, Clemens -- who was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley following Trea Turner's hamstring injury -- is hitting .321 with a 1.166 OPS after going 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles in the finale. That damage had been done exclusively against right-handed pitchers ... until Sunday.

Clemens put up big numbers this spring, when he hit .325 with three home runs and a 1.066 OPS in 17 Grapefruit League games. But following the signing of Whit Merrifield, Clemens was simply the odd man out in the Phillies' final roster crunch.

While the injury to Turner has presented a temporary opportunity for Clemens, the same predicament figures to exist once Turner is healthy. With Bryce Harper, Bryson Stott, Turner and Alec Bohm entrenched in the infield, the majority of opportunities -- especially pinch-hitting -- will come in the outfield.

Now, Clemens did play eight innings in left field this spring. He also played eight innings in right field for the Phils last season, though 309 1/3 of his 322 big league innings in the field in 2023 came at first base.

So would the Phillies consider using him in a corner outfield spot?

"Possibly, yeah," Thomson said.

As for Clemens, he's comfortable playing anywhere.

"We haven't talked about it, but I mean, I have an outfielder's glove,” Clemens said. “I've got a bunch of gloves in my locker, so whatever they want me to do, I'm obviously willing to do that."

The conversation around whether to send Clemens back to Lehigh Valley doesn't need to happen yet. Turner is at least a few weeks away from returning -- and a lot can happen between now and then.

"We're a ways away from that," Thomson said. "But he's playing great."

The Phillies (34-14) have the luxury of holding a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East, with the second-place Braves in action on Sunday night. So even if the club is fully healthy upon Turner's return, there doesn’t figure to be an immediate need for a shakeup for a team holding the best record in the Majors. One option would be to send Clemens back to Lehigh Valley, where he could play every day -- and get plenty of outfield reps to prep for a role later this summer.

That will all play itself out in the coming weeks.

For now, Clemens' focus remains on contributing any way he can on a team that has gone 14 consecutive series without losing one. The Phillies haven't even lost back-to-back games since April 23-24 in Cincinnati. They are 19-4 since then.

The latest win featured five RBIs from Bohm and three-hit performances from Harper and Nick Castellanos.

But the biggest knock once again came from Clemens.

“It feels amazing,” Clemens said. “Obviously, I came up here for Trea, and I'm going to try and stay and do everything I can to stay. It's a tough business sometimes, but when my name's called, I just have to be ready.”