Westmoreland looking for more

2010 was a great year for South Carolina pitchers as they led South Carolina to its first ever College World Series title. But for Adam Westmoreland, it was trying times as he tried to recover from injury that caused him to miss the whole season. After one strong start last weekend, Westmoreland will be back on the mound Sunday to start against Southern Illinois.

Replacing a seasoned leader like Jay Brown was another tall task faced by Ray Tanner and returning pitching coach Jerry Meyers before this season. Not to mention his key contributions as a Sunday starter during the SEC schedule. But who better to do that than a maturing player who missed an entire season while battling back from injury? Tanner said Thursday that he may have just found his man in Adam Westmoreland.

And as the Gamecocks kick off another big nonconference series against Southern Illinois this weekend; USC will be looking for more out of their third starter, who will be going for his first win of the season. But Tanner credited last year's growth as the reason he has instilled such confidence in the Brookland-Cayce high school product this year.

"(It was) difficult, no doubt," said Tanner. "And you know, he was here. He was here all the time and he's a part of our program. He had to work out on his own. He worked hard to get in better physical condition than he had ever been in. He had to rehab. It's got to be a tremendous challenge, and I can't say enough good things about how he handled himself. Our trainers were working with him and putting him in a position to be successful again. That's not an easy thing to do, to take a year off and have to rehab, have to not travel and be a part of things although I know he really felt close to his teammates, he wasn't a part of things and he's ecstatic to be back in there."

That determination, along with how Westmoreland was able to perform in fall and preseason practices went a long way to determining that he would be part of South Carolina's first weekend rotation.

"I think he performed," said Tanner. "He was comfortable. He had some experience here which was a couple of years ago but it still counts and I just felt like in the preseason he was very comfortable where he was and he pitched well. He was holding runners good, and had a three pitch mix, so I felt like he deserved to be out there and he'll be out there again this weekend."

Westmoreland did not disappoint in that first rotation either, firing five and two-thirds scoreless innings, giving up just three hits and one walk to go along with five strikeouts. And the coaching staff believes that if he can maintain his health, those sorts of numbers could become routine for the lefthander.

"It was encouraging," noted Tanner. "He continues to get more comfortable, I think he continues to improve. Nobody had great velocity really last weekend. They threw the ball well, some of the guys, and the bullpen. But he continues to get better each time out and his velocity is going up as well and that's good to see. The key for Westmoreland for me right now is he's healthy and he's comfortable. He had a good mix and he was very effective."

But it will take more than one pitcher to go up against the Salukis of Southern Illinois, and the Gamecocks will stick with an identical starting rotation as the opening weekend. Both Michael Roth and Tyler Webb sit at 1-0 on the season after picking up wins in their first starts of the year. Webb was especially dominant last Saturday as he allowed no earned runs in six innings of work.

Southern Illinois will start staff ace Cameron Maldonado on Friday night, who should be motivated after losing to Louisiana Tech in his first start of the year. SIU will then follow him up with Cody Forsythe and Todd Eaton on Saturday and Sunday. Both pitchers enter with 1-0 records.

"They've got a junior college arm that's pitched pretty well for them. They've got a lefty that I think is schedule Saturday that was there last year. Those guys got extended last weekend, I think they all went five, six, seven innings," said Tanner. "They'll compete and they'll do a good job I'm sure."

While these games could be looked at as tune-ups for the big series with Clemson next weekend, Coach Tanner said he always expects his guys to play hard and have no regrets when all is said and done.

"It's important that you emphasize every game and every game you play, there's a sense of urgency. I think our guys understand that it's a long season, it's a marathon, but you don't want to look back and go ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda.' You've got to make sure you're ready to play and if you get beat, you get beat."

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