Kody Clemens' Breakout Season Has Texas On Verge Of College World Seres
AUSTIN, Texas—Kody Clemens has been Texas’ best hitter all season long. But over the past six weeks, he has risen to another level, becoming one of the hottest hitters in the country.
Since Texas lost a series at West Virginia and the calendar flipped to May, Clemens, the youngest son of Roger Clemens, is hitting .410 and has hit 10 home runs. The All-American second baseman led Texas’ improbable run down the stretch to win the Big 12 Conference title that put it in a position to host regionals for the first time since 2011. He then helped the Longhorns sweep through the Austin Regional to return to super regionals for the first time since 2014.
With Texas on Sunday facing elimination after losing the first game of the Austin Super Regional to Tennessee Tech, Clemens delivered again. He gave the Longhorns the early lead with a first-inning RBI double and then belted a solo home run in the third inning. Thanks to Clemens’ heroics, along with an impressive pitching performance from Chase Shugart and Blair Henley, Texas went on to a 4-2 victory to force a decisive Game 3 on Monday with a trip to the College World Series on the line.
Clemens is enjoying the chance to produce for his team on the big stage of the NCAA Tournament.
“Our backs are against the wall,” he said. “You definitely try to do everything you can, especially during a super regional. I’m just trying to do what I can for this team and put together quality at bats.”
Clemens has this spring produced time and again for the Longhorns (41-21) on the biggest stages. He homered twice in the series at rival Oklahoma. He homered in the series finale against Texas Tech, sparking a rally that led Texas to a critical series win. He homered three times in the sweep of Texas Christian, including a walk-off blast, that won Texas the conference title on the final weekend of the regular season. He homered twice last week in the critical winners’ bracket game against archrival Texas A&M. And now, in super regionals, he is 3-for-5 with two homer runs, a double and three walks.
Asked Sunday if anything Clemens does surprises him anymore, coach David Pierce said nothing, before quickly correcting himself.
“Except he threw a ball away today, are you kidding me? E-4?” he joked, with Clemens sitting next to him. “He made up for it.”
Clemens is hitting .352/.444/.733 with 23 home runs, which ranks second in the nation. He earned All-America honors and is one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award. His breakout junior season was unexpected after he hit .242 with 10 home runs during his first two years in Austin.
But Clemens has turned himself into a much better hitter. He made some mechanical adjustments to his swing and is doing a better job of picking out pitches he can drive. He has been pitched carefully during his torrid stretch the last six weeks but is doing damage when he gets the chance. His sensational season greatly elevated his prospect status and led the Tigers last week to draft him with the first pick of the third round.
After Sunday’s game, Clemens explained that he’s just barreling the ball well right now. Pierce could hardly believe how easy his star made it sound.
“I just wait for the pitcher’s mistake and I handle it,” Clemens said. “That’s basically it.”
“It’s that easy. That’s basically it,” Pierce joked.
“You’ve got to make it simple,” Clemens said.
“It’s very simple,” Pierce said. “His approach is about as simple as it gets. But it’s about his discipline and getting the right pitches and when he does, he’s ready for them.”
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Clemens may be done seeing the right pitches this weekend. Tennessee Tech intentionally walked Clemens in the ninth inning Sunday with two outs and first base open. Coach Matt Bragga said, half-jokingly, that strategy may be repeated Monday in all of Clemens’ plate appearances.
“I don’t see the weaknesses right now, I just don’t,” Bragga said. “He’s as good as we’ve seen. This park plays fairly big and he’s popping them out of here like it’s a cracker jack box. He’s a great player. That’s why he’s up for the Golden Spikes.”
Though it may not always feel like it, Texas’ lineup has more to offer than just Clemens. Designated hitter Zach Zubia has big righthanded power and has hit 11 home runs, providing Clemens with protection in the cleanup spot. Shortstop David Hamilton and right fielder Duke Ellis have proven to be effective table setters, consistently giving Clemens a chance to drive in runners.
But if Bragga follows through on his threat to walk Clemens every chance he gets, someone else will have to step up offensively for the Longhorns. But if Clemens is given even half an opportunity, he’ll be ready.
“It’s the same approach, he said. “I just put together a good at-bat and I’ll do exactly the same tomorrow.”