Tigers Begin Hunt For Title

CLEMSON – There are questions surrounding the starting pitching, the middle relief and the right and left fielders, yet when the Clemson baseball squad takes to the field against George Mason Friday afternoon, it will do so ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation.

There is the belief, and rightly so, that even with all these unknowns that the Tigers are going to very, very good. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of issues questions that need to be addressed.

"There are question marks as you go into every season," Clemson baseball coach Jack Leggett said. "You haven't seen the freshmen (Addison Johnson) in left field play much; in right field, (redshirt freshman) Will Boyd is a question; behind the plate we have a new catcher. …

"We've got to go out there and earn (the No. 1 ranking). We've earned it because of our tradition and how we played last year and we've got some good kids coming back, because we do have a good infield. … Whether we're really the No. 1 team in the country or not, we really don't know until it all shakes out in the very end."

To help get the Tigers off on the right foot, junior right-handed pitcher P.J. Zocchi will take to the hill as the team's No. 1 starter. Last season in seven starts, he went 5-0 and posted a 2.75 ERA.

"It's an honor (to get that first start)," Zocchi said. "I feel like I've worked hard the last couple of years to get it."

Right-handed pitcher David Kopp will start Saturday and lefty Ryan Hinson gets the call on Sunday.

Other than a brand new starting rotation, another major difference Leggett will have this year is all the different lineup possibilities.

While the infield will be exactly the same as last year, the catching spot will be rotated between sophomore Alex Burg and junior Doug Hogan. And which ever one has the hot bat will likely get the most playing time.

Right field will be patrolled by sophomore D.J. Mitchell, who filled in during the post season after Travis Storrer went down with an injury just prior to the ACC Tournament, and Boyd.

The designated hitter role will be held by a myriad of players, including Mitchell, Boyd, Burg, freshman J.D. Burgess, freshman Ben Paulsen and freshman Tim Morris.

Left field will be handled by Johnson, who is fleet of foot in outfield and more of a slap hitter on offense like centerfielder Brad Chalk. Johnson is also expected to leadoff, with Chalk batting second, which gives Clemson some very good speed at the top of the order.

"He's a good little player, you're going to like him," Leggett said. "He's a fun kid to watch play. I see a lot of good things happening out there if he does continue to play like I think he can in left field."

Yes, there are some new faces in important places this year for the Tigers, but with first baseman Andy D'Alessio, second baseman Taylor Harbin, shortstop Stan Widmann, third baseman Marquez Smith and Chalk returning as the core starters, this is still a very good team, as evident by their ranking.

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