Clemens takes the mound for Tigers (yes, really)

June 15th, 2022

DETROIT -- Two weeks after followed in his father’s footsteps by reaching the Major Leagues, he has now followed his Cy Young-winning father to the mound. It wasn’t necessarily a goal.

On a day when the Tigers used three position players to pitch for the first time in franchise history, Clemens was one of them. The infielder became a pitcher for an inning, tossing a one-run eighth in Wednesday’s 13-0 loss to the White Sox at Comerica Park.

Perhaps prophetically, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch had noted earlier how he had missed a chance to use Kody on the mound at Yankee Stadium, where the Tigers suffered a 13-0 loss on June 3. Fellow Tigers infielder Harold Castro, Hinch’s position player-pitcher of choice, tossed an inning in that one.

Once Chicago pulled away early on a hot Wednesday afternoon, with Detroit’s pitching staff already taxed from a bullpen game Tuesday night, Hinch ran a procession of position players to the mound for the final three innings. Rookie starter Alex Faedo, who had thrown at least five innings in each of his first seven Major League starts, lasted just three on 80 pitches. After three relievers covered the next three innings, Hinch turned to position players.

“Once you go to that pen and it’s kind of one man after another, then the dilemma comes,” Hinch said. “Do you want to use [closer Gregory] Soto? Do you want to use [veteran lefty Andrew] Chafin? Do you want to use [Michael] Fulmer? [Wily] Peralta pitched yesterday. [Will] Vest has thrown the last two days. Or do you just kind of take it, bite the bullet and use position players?”

After Castro came in from shortstop and recorded his first big league strikeout in the seventh, on came Clemens -- who started at third base -- for the eighth.

“Kody, I just talked to him and told him to throw as slow as he could,” Hinch said.

Suffice to say, he did not show his father’s fastball, topping out at 49.7 mph, according to Statcast. Then again, Statcast only showed him throwing sliders and curveballs.

Clemens gave up hits to three of his first four batters, including a leadoff double that José Abreu crushed to the wall in right-center field. Austin Meadows made a standout catch in left on a hard-hit drive from Seby Zavala. After a four-pitch walk to Danny Mendick, Clemens induced an inning-ending grounder from AJ Pollock.

Catcher Tucker Barnhart then came on to pitch the ninth. The Tigers became the first Major League team to use three position players in the same game since the Cubs used Eric Sogard, Anthony Rizzo and Matt Duffy to finish out a 10-0 loss to the Braves on April 28, 2021. That was the game in which Rizzo struck out then-Braves slugger and good friend Freddie Freeman.

“Obviously, position players pitching is fun,” Javier Báez said, “but the score is not fun. We take the good parts of the situation we’re in. We take a positive out of a negative.”

Clemens’ pitching debut came just two days after he recorded his first MLB hit, ending an 0-for-17 start with a two-hit performance in Monday's series opener.