Bunn Pleased with Young Guns

CLEMSON - Despite the loss of several key starters from last year's weekend rotation, expectations remain as high as they've ever been for Clemson's pitching staff. Just ask first year pitching coach Kyle Bunn.

Bunn arrived at Clemson last fall after former pitching coach/recruiting coordinator Kevin O'Sullivan left to become the head coach at Florida.

As the former pitching coach at Mississippi, Bunn knows a thing or two about getting his guys to pitch at a high level.

The Rebels finished the 2007 season with a team ERA of 3.58, good enough for second-best in the SEC and 17th-best in the nation. Mississippi also averaged 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, which was No. 9 in the country.

Bunn hopes he can achieve a similar level of success in 2008 at Clemson, and it starts with a pair of juniors in D.J. Mitchell and Ryan Hinson.

Mitchell, a righthander, made his debut on the mound a year ago and had a 5-0 record with a 3.27 ERA in 15 appearances (seven starts). The Tigers had a 7-0 record in his seven starts on the mound, including a victory in the Myrtle Beach Regional Championship game.

Mitchell, also an outfielder last season, will focus more on pitching this season.

"D.J. Mitchell is a very solid competitor. He's got a good demeanor about him," said Bunn. "The one thing we are working on with him is, in the past, he's not been solely focused on being a pitcher. That's what we are going to rely on him for this year. So he's got to get seasoned in a little bit. He's got to learn how to prepare for that. He's going to be great for us.

"He's got a lot of life on his fastball and he's got the ability to throw the breaking ball very hard, and his change-up is going to be a solid pitch because of its movement and because it's got so much sink to it."

Hinson, a lefthander, had a 6-2 record and 2.74 ERA (fifth-best in the ACC in 2007) in 82.0 innings pitched during the 2007 season.

"Ryan Hinson is already one of those guys who has competed regularly in the past," said Bunn. "He knows how to prepare and he has that edge. He's a pleasure to be able to coach a player with his maturity level. He's been great for me so far. He's done a lot to get himself in good shape."

No. 3 in the rotation will likely be redshirt freshman Graham Stoneburner, who is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss last year.

Once viewed as one of the top pitching prospects in the country, Stoneburner appears to be healthy again.

"I think he's going to be good for us as far as a No. 3 goes but nothing is set in stone yet," Bunn said. "The good thing is he's healthy. You look at his arm and you look at his velocity and it's clear those things are back. So he should be in a position to help us."

Coming out of the bullpen, the Tigers will turn to a number of younger players, including sophomore Justin Surratt, sophomore Matt Zoltak and a number of talented freshmen.

Leading the way in the closing role will likely be junior righthander Matt Vaughn.

Vaughn will step into the very big shoes of last year's closer, Daniel Moskos, who ended up being selected as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"We have our eye on Matt Vaughn [in the closing role]," said Bunn. "He has an unbelievable characteristic about him that he wants the ball. He wants to pitch and he wants to please the coaches and the fans. That characteristic can go a long way in a closing role.

"He is a guy that could come in during the seventh or eighth inning. Or he can come in and pitch the ninth inning. He can log some innings for us if we need it."

Lasat year Vaughn finished the season with a 4-0 record and a 2.75 ERA, including one save in 16 appearances.

He is also the team co-captain this season.

The Tigers open the 2008 season Friday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium against Mercer at 4:00 PM.

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