Toeing the rubber with Pep

CLEMSON - On Wednesday afternoon, Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli joined the Roy Philpott Show to preview the Tigers' 2012 season.

Pepicelli, who's entering his third season at Clemson, will have several veteran arms to call on as the Tigers look to make another run to Omaha.

Kevin Brady will presumably re-take the Friday starter role, which he held during the early portion of the 2011 season before suffering a forearm strain.

"Kevin looks strong. He's really done a very good job of working to come back from the forearm strain last year," Pepicelli said. "He had a good fall with us. Really happy with the progress he made and the time he put in. He worked very hard in the weight room, really just brought himself back."

Brady, who went 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 10 appearances [three starts], retired 33 batters on strikes in just 23 1/3 innings of work.

After using to offseason to rediscover his breaking pitch, Pepicelli said Brady's will have a quality compliment to his fastball.

"I think the first thing we had to do was getting him back comfortable to where he was wanting to throw [the breaking ball], then we could make progress with it," Pepicelli said. "I do feel like it's progressing. I know he's real excited about it.

"If it's something they're excited about throwing, they're probably going to be a little bit better with it than if they're a little hesitant. He's excited. He wants to use that pitch a little more. I like it. I think it's sharp. I think he's ready to use it."

Also back to the starting rotation is Dominic Leone, who went 6-2 with a 3.70 ERA last season. As a sophomore, he registered 72 strikeouts and 30 walks in 65 2/3 innings of work.

"We feel like there's a whole other level we can go to as a staff. For that to happen, we need people like Dom to step up," Pepicelli said. "We need people like Dave Haselden and Scotty Firth, those guys all to take another step in their game."

Leone, Pepicelli said, is a competitor who's anxious to do just that.

"As soon as he got here in the fall, I said the first thing we needed to do is rest him, because he'd thrown so much in the Cape [Cod League] and for us in the spring," Pepicelli said. "Then we really went to work. I just love what the kid brings to us everyday."

Haselden went 6-1 with a 2.23 ERA and three saves in 25 appearances [four starts] a year ago.

"He was there for us, an absolute rock for us [in relief]," Pepicelli said. "The way he's progressed, he worked awful hard in the offseason. His pitch mix has really come along. I think it's time for him to emerge as a starter. We feel really good about him."

Firth, another potential starter, went 5-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 16 appearances [seven starts] in 2011.

"He has very, very good stuff," Pepicelli said. "Opponents were hitting [.225] off him last year. Not so much concerned with the swings that they're putting on Scotty as much as, can you get more off those swings?

"He's a very aggressive kid, a real hard working kid. It's not a focus issue and it's not a desire issue. We've got to clean some things up mechanically to help him throw more strikes. He's working real hard at that right now."

Jonathan Meyer, who started seven games last season, went 5-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 23 games.

"He was so big for us. It was really big that he got injured at the ACC Tournament and wasn't able to pitch for us in the Regionals. He'd become the starter that maybe we needed in the Regionals, to finish that up," Pepicelli.

Meyer was sidelined for the end of the postseason play after taking a line drive off his right kneecap against N.C. State during the ACC Tournament.

"This spring has really been the first time that he's really been able to get his leg back underneath him and start pitching," Pepicelli said. "He may be a shade behind the curve than where I'd like him to be."

As the rehab continues, Pepicelli suspects Meyer find himself occupying important role at some point this spring.

"We know what kind of a starter he can be for us and we know what kind of a reliever he can be, so we'll have to see when he's back to full-strength, what he's capable of doing," Pepicelli said.

Also in the mix are several talented freshmen. Among those young arms is Daniel Gossett.

"He's got good arm speed. He can throw the fastball. He's in the 90's. He's got good put-away stuff," Pepicelli said. "He's really an enthusiastic kid. Sometimes I've got to slow him down…that's a great problem to have for a freshman.

"He wants to compete. He doesn't have any fear in his body. He wants to attack everything. I love that. I think there's a lot to work with…people should expect to see a lot from him and a lot of him."

Another freshman that has Pepicelli excited is Patrick Andrews.

"He's had a good preseason for us so far. He's a big kid that I think people will see quite a bit from as well," Pepicelli said. "He's kind of forced his way into my plan."

Clay Bates, who took a redshirt last season, spent his first-year on campus re-tooling his mechanics.

"The changes, I think, have really, really paid off," Pepicelli said. "We dropped his arm slot, we've done some other things. The ball is moving all over the place now."

A closer won't be determined until several weeks into the season.

"I think we want to see the first couple of weekends," Pepicelli said. "The reason I say that, a guy can look like he can fill that role all he wants during intra-squad.

"When the lights come on and we fill up the seats, I just want to see, and I know coach [Jack] Leggett wants to see how people respond to that challenge of doing that."

Haselden is first among returning pitchers with three saves.

"Guys have come to me really excited about it, maybe campaigning for it, which is great. I want guys that feel that they want to do that job," Pepicelli said. "We'll see if they can put their money where there mouth is."

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