Clemens’ breakout season now in the forefront

Shane Lewis

Make no mistake — junior infielder Kody Clemens has arrived.

Coming into the season, the strength of the Longhorns was supposed to lie with their defense. That much has come into fruition as Texas boasts the top fielding percentage in the Big 12, committing only seven errors in 15 conference games.

But the offense has quietly been producing as well, displaying an ability to win shootouts. The Longhorns are third in the Big 12 in both runs scored and homers, and they’ll look to keep swinging in Tuesday’s game against UT-Rio Grande Valley at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

A huge cog in the offense has been Clemens. The 6-foot slugger has hit 11 home runs this season – more than a third of the Longhorns’ total – and is batting an astronomical .361.

For his efforts, the infielder has been named to numerous midseason All-American teams and is considered one of the premier talents in the country. But Texas head coach David Pierce thinks Clemens has room to improve.

“His numbers say that he’ll be an All-American, and he’s getting recognition for that,” Pierce said. “The thing is, when you start getting mid-season recognition, you want to say how did I get here and how can I continue to do that. I think he has that ability do that and get even better.”

As the season has wore on, Clemens has become the subject of both other teams’ scouting reports and their nightmares. Opposing pitchers have tried their best to pitch around the junior, but Clemens has adjusted to the special treatment.

“People love to throw me away,” Clemens said. “But one time, they’ll make a mistake and that’s the (pitch) I’ll jump on.”

Clemens’ ability to wait for that ‘mistake’ has been a part of his rapid evolution as a player. Last season, as a sophomore, Clemens batted .241 and had a slugging percentage more than .300 points less than this year. As a freshman, Clemens struck out 44 times in only 57 games.

Already this year, Clemens has more home runs than his previous two years combined. Pierce has attributed the progression to Clemens’ improved ability to battle at the plate and be patient with pitchers.

“(Clemens) now has the ability to fight off pitcher’s pitches in two-strike counts and then taking the base on balls or getting a pitch he can handle,” Pierce said. “That’s a quality that great hitters have.”

Tristan Stevens is the probable starter for Tuesday night’s game, marking the freshman pitcher’s first appearance as a Longhorn.

Junior pitcher Josh Sawyer had some advice for the young pitcher: don’t try to do too much and lean on the strengths of the team.

“Us older guys are starting to take control and helping the freshmen out,” Sawyer said. “All you have to do is go in there and throw strikes. If you go in there and throw strikes, good things are going to happen because we have one of the best defenses in the country.

“For a lot of young pitchers that come into college, they’re used to striking out everyone in high school. You have to have faith in the defense
behind you.”