Conference: ACC. Record: Home 4-2, Away 0-0, Neutral 0-0, ACC 0-0.
Series history: Clemson leads 168-125-2 (series start/last meeting: 1899/2011); Ray Tanner vs. Jack Leggett: 30 wins, 25 losses.
The start of something new… Coach Jack Leggett starts his 19th year as skipper of the Clemson Tiger baseball team. He relies on Coach Dan Pepicelli (his third year as Clemson's pitching coach); Pepicelli retains the title as Associate Head Coach for Jack Leggett's team. The Tigers lost some key relief pitching after the 2011 season. Justin Surratt was a shut down relief pitcher that would come in and really give batting orders fits in middle to late innings. Alex Frederick was another, as was Will Lamb and Addison Johnson, two lefties who that played the outfield and offered innings to pitch in relief. Finally, Scott Weismann was a right hander that offered significant innings in relief, although the numbers he offered in relief were a bit lacking… but his 17 walks and 51Ks against 222 batters faced was respectable and deserves mention.
Pepicelli returns some key weekend starters into the Tiger line-up with Kevin Brady (RHP, L-R, R.S.-Jr; .90ERA, 8 hits, 3 runs [1 earned], 2 walks and 9Ks in 10 innings worked) as his Friday starter. Dominic Leone (RHP, R-R, Jr; 3.27ERA, 2-0, 8h, 4 runs [4 earned], 4 walks and 10Ks in 11 innings worked) is your Saturday starter and David Haselden (RHP, R-R, Sr.; 3.86ERA, 12 hits, 5 runs [3 earned], 2 walks, 4Ks in 7 innings worked) is your Sunday starter.
Leone was a little used starter last year due to injury, but Pepicelli has done a very good job in his development. He comes in with a ¾ arm slot and can throw a pretty sharp breaking ball. He averages a fastball in the high 80's/low 90's and Pepicelli has worked with him on mixing his pitches effectively and hitting the zone with his pitches. He currently leads all of the weekend starters with Ks thrown against the opposition. Leone's motion to the plate, effective pitch mix provide him the opportunity to take his game 5-6 innings; I would wager he is capable of more if needed and if he is "on". Include the works of Grad Assistant Coach Ryan Hinson (LHP, '06-'09) with some of the improvements of the staff this year. Hinson was nails when he was a Clemson pitcher.
Kevin Pohle (RHP, R-R, So.; 0.00ERA, 2-0, 6 hits, 3 runs [3 earned], 2 walks and 7Ks in 7 innings pitched) has offered excellent relief work from the bullpen and has followed Haselden as his #2 in relief. I imagine Pohle's role will be expanded and it could start this weekend against the Gamecocks, as Pohle can offer 3-4 innings of solid relief at/around the fifth inning to stay close or to hold a lead. Another pitcher offering solid relief for Clemson starters is Mike Kent (RHP, R-R, R.S. So; 0.00ERA, 3 walks in 3.2 innings pitched), but the book is literally still out on Mr. Kent as he has only pitched minimally (3 innings, facing 12 batters) thus far in the season.
Thus far, they are utilizing two closers to finish teams off in the final innings. Scott Firth (RHP, R-R, Jr; 2.08ERA, 5 hits, 1 run [1 earned], 1 walk and 7Ks) has been effective as a setup man for the closer, Daniel Gossett (RHP, R-R, Fr; 0.00ERA, 1 save, 2 walks, 1K in 2 innings of work) who has (thus far with limited work… 5 batters faced) been effective keeping opponents from crossing the diamond. I believe Firth is one of those guys whose role could be expanded… as long as his arm allows it. They could really use his arm if it can provide more innings in relief.
Matt Campbell (RHP, R-R, So; 5.04ERA, 0-1, 8 hits, 3 runs [3 earned] and 4Ks in 5 innings pitched) has been their #2 reliever, used in conjunction with Brady on Fridays. Brady is an excellent Friday starter for Clemson, throws heat that averages at about 94-95 mph and can hit the spot consistently and works fast from the bump. But the arms to hold leads or to maintain to get a lead just haven't been there… that is the biggest of weaknesses with this pitching staff. A good team that can challenge them from the 6th to 9th inning has a good shot of pulling off a "W" against them and it has happened this year on Friday games.
Interestingly enough, if one views the Clemson pitching roster, one would find that it is almost totally void of left-handed pitchers with the exclusion of returning pitcher, Joseph Moorefield. Moorefield saw little action last year, only pitching 15.1 innings, facing 65 batters and possessing a 5.28ERA. He has not pitched a frame this year. Along with Moorefield, unless there is a left-handed surprise coming from the outfield (Attanasio was a LHP as well as an outfielder in H.S.), left-handed Gamecock hitters may have a distinct advantage going into later innings of our three game series with the Tigers.
Batter-up!... Tiger batters for 2012 will have to provide execution at home plate and on base pads to score runs this year. They lost some major punch within their batting order from the 2011 team. Gone are Charlie Epps the speedy lead-off man who hit .292, Brad Miller their 2 hole hitter (.395), Jeff Schauss at clean-up (.323), John Hinson a solid 5-6 hitter (.331) and Will Lamb (a solid utility player) that hit .348 for the year. That is a lot of offensive power to replace; it also is problematic for them concerning the positions played by these guys.
Epps and Lamb shared the right field position. On occasion, Lamb would play center field; the point being there was always the availability of their bats when needed… wither in a position change or off he bench. Right field, for now, is filled by a Grad student Brad Felder (L/L), hitting at the bottom of the order (6-7). Felder wasn't even on the Clemson roster last year, but was a fourth year player on the Citadel baseball team. Felder's story is an interesting one… a four year player for the Citadel, graduated in 2011. He wanted to pursue a pro baseball career but wasn't drafted, so he came to Atlanta and tried out for the Atlanta Braves. No luck there. His immediate plans were to stay in Atlanta and look for the all-illusive career. His mom (former Tiger basketball player) suggested that he go to Clemson for grad school and extend his playing career on the college level. It is a roll of the dice, but it is a way to be seen on a bigger platform by the major league programs in the upcoming 2012 draft. Felder's upside is his footspeed; he runs a 6.3/60 (yard); he brings a level of experience to the position that they desperately needed. He provides a little power with the bat and is currently hitting .250 (.304 obp). What he is capable of doing could make a difference for the tigers.
Brad Miller was the Tiger's stellar shortstop; his bat and position is in the capable hands of Brad Stoltz. Jeff Schauss was last year's left fielder and is replaced by Tyler Slaton and Dominic Attanasio. Tyler and Dominic have been rotated in and out over the past six games, so "platooning" the two may be a real possibility until one separates from the other. John Hinson (played third) was replaced by Richie Shaffer who is capable of putting up numbers at the plate. Will Lamb was a "utility guy" that played centerfield, right field, first base and pitched lefty in relief… you hate to lose that guy if he was giving you a +.300 batting average (.348). Shaffer is currently battling a groin pull (suffered last weekend against Maine) and is 50/50 for our series. They can ill-afford to miss his experienced eye at the plate when facing our pitching staff. It would force the use of Freshman Jay Baum in the third base position… for Baum, a tough way to take those reins in a series like this. Richie Shaffer received pre-season 1st team All-America accolades from Baseball America; Brady (Friday starter), Gossett (closer) and Shaffer were listed among the Top 50 college baseball players (in their respective classes) by Baseball America.
Just as it was in 2011, Tiger hitters have a good eye at the plate and are still selective on pitches that they will chase, but they aren't taking pitches (thus far) for walks as much as recent memory. They have 33 walks/hit-by-pitch calls to 26 strike outs thus far in six games… compared to 55 walks/hit-by-pitch calls against 28 strikeouts at this same point last season. They are hitting .280 (compared to .356 at this time last year), possess a .440 slugging percentage (this year) compared to a .487 slugging percentage (this time last year) and .384 on-base percentage, compared to last year's .481 on-base percentage (this time last year). I remember watching them at the plate this time last season; they did a very good job of selecting pitches to swing and they really, really made our pitchers work for everything they could get.
This year, Clemson hitters are calm and collective at the plate. Their collective batting average of .280 is slightly better than ours for now (.275); our on-base percentage is far less than theirs (.337 obp to Clemson's .384 obp). Our walks-to-strike out ratio is not as stout as theirs, either… Clemson's 26 walks to 26 strike outs versus our 20 walks to 37 strikeouts. Our run-to-hits ratio (37 runs to 60 hits) is comparable to their ratio of 37 runs to 55 hits; they've done more with their hits in the way of scoring runs. What does this prove? Nothing really. Both teams have played only six and seven games to start this season. However, this game goes beyond all numbers and stats used to back up the possible and statistical chances of winning the series. It is the biggest rivalry of all in college baseball and is highly anticipated by all in our state and the southeast region. It is a prelude to preparing younger players for the upcoming storm in both our respective conferences. It is show time.
Judging last year's results from the regular season match-up, things aren't always indicative of what can happen in post-season play. Taking this series 2-1 last year helped us obtain a pace set for our bullpen and our entire pitching staff. It forced us to take some risks down the road with a few starters and pushed a few starters into relievers. It was money for us because it set the pace for our eventual two wins in Gainesville against the Gators, paced us through our series with Vandy and put us on the stretch to compete for Omaha, eventually winning it all. Again. Keeping pace means taking 2 out of 3 from a worthy adversary (which Clemson is); do that and it helps to build a program's competitive edge.
For Clemson, it meant a humiliating loss to Connecticut in the Clemson Regionals, 14-1. For them, that game and the way their season ended is a rallying cry. Beating us may be some slight redemption for taking one on the chin by a good U.Conn team that lost two straight to us in the Columbia Super Regionals. It is the game that most of their players remember and discuss with the press. It was a tough way to end the season, but now they are focused on a return trip to Omaha.
Here is a look at the batting order (taken from last weekend's series) and their hitting numbers…
4, Thomas Brittle, CF (L/L, R.S. Jr.): .333BA, 21AB, 6r, 7h, 1RBI, 6W, 2K (.500 obp)
17, Steve Wilkerson, 2B (S/L, So.): .500BA, 14AB, 6r, 7h, 5RBI, 2K (.500 obp)
9, Phil Pohl, 1B/DH/C (R/R, Sr.): .476BA, 21AB, 6r, 10h, 2HR, 9RBI, 2w, 2K (.537 obp)
8, Richie Shaffer, 3B (R/R, Jr.): .364BA, 22AB, 6r, 8h, 2HR, 8RBI, 4w, 4K (.462 obp)
22, Spencer Kieboom, C (R/R, Jr.): .238BA, 21AB, 1r, 5h, 1HR, 7RBI, 1w (.292 obp)
3, Brad Felder, RF (L/L, Gr. Stu.): .250BA, 20AB, 2r, 5h, 1HR, 4RBI, 1w, 2K (.304 obp)
12, John McGibbon, DH/1B (L/L, So.): .067BA, 15AB, 3r, 1h, 1RBI, 7w,2K (.375 obp)
2, Jason Stolz, SS (R/R, Sr.); .304BA, 23AB, 2r, 7h,1w, 2K (.333 obp)
1, Dominic Attanasio, LF, RF (L/L, So.): .300BA, 10AB, 4r, 3h, 1w, 1K (.500 obp)
13, Jay Baum, 3B (R/R, Fr.): .100BA, 10AB, 1r, 1h, 1w, 1K (.182 obp)
18 Tyler Slaton, LF (L/L, Fr.): .000BA, 8AB, 4k (.000 obp)
30, Garrett Boulware, LF (R/R, Fr.): .167BA, 6AB, 1h, 1RBI, 1w, 2K (.286 obp)
.280 BA; .384 on-base %. (opponents): .290 BA; .358 on-base %.
How we will play them… Good pitching will trump good hitting almost every time. It was the difference from losing two to the Tigers in March to becoming the dominant team in June 2011. The top of Clemson's batting order (1-5) is as tough as it can get. They have done a good job of raking hits over the past two weeks and their stats show it. Kieboom is a bit off of his pace (from last year; was hitting .550) but always saves something extra for our series. Brad Felder has done well in the middle of their order. The weakest link, John McGibbon (.067BA) is deceptive as he has reached base with a walk in every game played this season; hence, the high on-base percentage. Stolz is a solid hitter at the 8 spot and Attanasio solid at 9.
The other interesting point that appears is where they line up within the batting order. Left, Switch, Right, Right, Right, Left, Left, Left, Right, Left with this (particular) batting order. Rotating Baum for Shaffer (groin pull) weakens clean-up considerably, so a shift with Baum lower in the order with a left handed hitter (Felder/Attanasio) in the 4 spot makes the lead off five of their order (L,S,R,L,R) even more interesting for Leggett and our pitching staff.
Whatever the batting order, you can bet that they will have a difficult time dealing with Mr. Roth in Charleston on Friday evening. Roth's cutter… the pitch with the arm fully extended against right-handed batters, comes in low and to the inside. For lefties, his low/outside (on a ¾ arm slot) is an unhittable pitch that was thrown with consistency in last year's Friday match-up.
He was hitting the zone for strikes with the cutter in last year's game. If they lay off of it, it is a strike. If they make contact, the hit dies a sorry death to third base, MIF or as a foul ball. You add in the slider (which is a little slower than a cutter, but looks the same coming off the pitcher's hand) and his sinking pitches are quite confusing (actually frustrating) for Clemson hitters. In the past, when they would look for it to come around, he would catch them with a mid-high 80's fastball. He could keep this style of pitching up for long periods of time, as it wasn't taxing on his arm. It was taxing on Clemson hitters. Roth is a pace setter for this series and will be up against a quick worker in Clemson's fastball pitcher, Kevin Brady.
Matt Price should do well against Clemson hitters and will have the comfort of pitching at home in Columbia this Saturday. I like our match-up with Matt on the mound against their hitters and I hope he recalls last year's Sunday game in Clemson. It was his worst performance of the year (every pitcher has one) and I am sure he wants to show them some new pitches he has picked up recently from Coach Meyers. He will always have the fastball ready, but his off speed pitches (slider in the low 80s and change-up) really set the pace for him as a starter. This is what may surprise Tiger batters the most as Matt is pretty consistent hitting the strike zone with his off- speed pitches which extends his time on the mound. Last year in Clemson, they were literally teeing off on his fastball because he couldn't hit his spots with his off speed pitches. Clemson batters sat and watched (for walks) as he missed his spots. He needs to have control at the start (unlike his start against VMI) when facing Clemson batters. Should he struggle at any time, we should be confidant in who we have behind him in the pen (Carter, Webb, Koumas, Beal, Privette, et al).
In my opinion, Colby Holmes draws the short straw in this series by having to start for the Gamecocks at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Colby's family used to be long time Clemson fans and Colby has a little brother (Grant, 2014) who is a pretty good hurler too. Grant has had the benefit of seeing big brother in big situations… this weekend is the biggest the family will witness. Bigger than Omaha? Perhaps. I (personally) hope the Tiger hitters are so frustrated over their lack of offensive production that they make Colby work extra hard for his Ks. Why hope for that?
Because Colby Holmes gave the performance of his life under similar circumstances in Gainesville last year; did the same against Virginia in Omaha. I think the level of competition he reached against the Gators and Cavaliers changed his mental toughness. It shaped him into the starter he is for us today and it made Coach's choice for our Sunday hurler an easy one. This match-up at Clemson will make his tensile strength even stronger if he has similar results. Colby is the one pitcher on our staff that I wouldn't bet against when challenged. His fastball location is much better and has increased velocity; his change-up is unhittable if he is hitting his spots. He is the kind of RHP that matches up well with Clemson hitters, but his mental toughness is his biggest and best attribute for this (particular) game.
Tiger Pitching…Here is a look at Clemson's starting pitchers and their relief pitchers, many of them have seen and have had experience with our batting order, both good and bad. It will be up to our batting order to keep this group uncomfortable over the weekend.
19, Kevin Brady (RHP, L-R, R.S.-Jr.): 0.90ERA, 10IP, 8h, 3r(1e), 2w, 9K (.366 oba/25bf)
6, Dominic Leone (RHP, R-R, Jr.): 3.27ERA, 2-0, 11IP, 8h, 4r(4e), 4w, 10K (.229oba/35bf)
29, David Haselden (RHP, R-R, Sr.): 3.86ERA, 7IP, 12h, 5r(3e), 2w, 4K (.400oba/30bf)
21, Kevin Pohle (RHP, R-R, So.): 0.00ERA, 2-0, 7IP, 6h, 3r(0e), 2w, 7K (.240oba/25bf)
20, Scott Firth (RHP, R-R, Jr.): 2.08ERA, 4.1IP, 5h, 1r(1e), 1w, 7K (.263oba/19bf)
23, Daniel Gossett (RHP, R-R, Fr.): 0.00ERA, 1SV, 2IP, 2w, 1K (.0.00oba/5bf)
36 Matt Campbell (RHP, R-R, So.); 5.04ERA, 0-1, 5IP, 8h, 3r(3e), 4K (.364oba/22bf)
15, Mike Kent (RHP, R-R, R.S. So.): 0.00ERA, 3IP, 3h, 0r, (.250oba/12bf)
28 Jonathon Meyer (RHP, R-R, Jr.): 21.60ERA, 0-1, 1.2IP, 6h, 4r(4e), 1w, (.545oba/11bf)
42 Clay Bates (RHP, R-R, R.S.-Fr.): 4.50ERA, 2IP, 4h, 1r(1e), 1w (.545oba/11bf)
43, Patrick Andrews (RHP, R-R, Fr.): 0.00ERA, 1.1IP, 1w, 3K (.000oba/3bf)
2.83 Team ERA; .290 oba. (opponents): 6.30 Team ERA; .285 oba.
Our hitters must make good choices at the plate and make the Clemson defense work for their outs; being a little more aggressive and challenging their pitchers is mandatory in this series. We need to challenge the middle portion of their defense, specifically Steve Wilkerson at 2B (one error, .909 fld %) and Richie Shaffer (if/when he plays) at 3B (three errors, .824 fld %). This is where they have committed a few in field fielding errors and I am wondering how they may react with active runners on base, hit and runs, stolen bases or bunts down the third base line. Staying active may present them with some problems and provide us with some opportunities, if we can create the advantage.
This weekend is the perfect time to open the flood gates on Gamecock hitting and scoring runs. Most likely, a run lead will not be enough to keep the Tigers at bay, even with the pitching we possess. This becomes even more important if our games are delayed by inclement weather. We have to take advantage of ducks on the pond, speed on the bags by getting some hits down. Swinging for fences is fine, but against Clemson's pitching it is far better to hit for on base averages.
Kevin Brady will offer up some incredible speed on his fastball pitches, most of them top out at 95 mph and with good control. Last year, he was pitching so hard that he injured his arm and was out of action for almost two months after our series. Brady will work fast from the mound and will use his breaking ball to mix up his pitches. The breaking ball development was delayed last year due to his injury (suffered in Clemson against the Yardcocks), but he had a chance to work on it in the Cape Cod leagues last Summer and has been working on it through Fall and Winter workouts. It is good enough to get the coveted Friday start in 2012.
Dominic Leone (Co-Captain), in my opinion, is the best returner to start for the Tigers this year. He will pitch against us in Columbia for this series and will be up against hurler Matt Price. It should be an excellent contest. Leone suffered an injury last year, but helped lead the charge for Clemson in the latter part of their season in 2011 (3.70ERA, 6-2 with a team high 72K's in 65.2 innings). Leone will work with his fastball early (comes in @ 90-92 mph) but possesses little movement so he has to hit the corners for K's. Accuracy for him is key; one of those situations where he is unhittable if he is on… or gone from the game if not. Lately, he has had very good command (10K's in 11 innings pitched). He will use a slow curve (mid 70's) and slider (80-84 mph) that has a good diving action when it crosses the plate. Leone will use the curve and slider to throw the pace off his fastball; he mixes those pitches with a good change-up (80-83 mph) as an out pitch. As a batter, he keeps you on your toes and you have to respect his command of pitches.
David Haselden has been the Sunday starter the past two weeks, but Coach Leggett has decided to go TBA for now concerning a Sunday starter. Although Haselden has been involved in two games where the final outcome was a W, he has struggled with control. I think of he makes a change with the Sunday starter, we will have to expect someone like Scott Firth to start. He has performed well in middle relief over the past few weeks with 7k's in 4.1 innings pitched.
As always, this series sets the pace for both teams going into conference play. Given the level of competition between the two teams, crowd followings both provide and the general atmosphere the match-up possesses it is a great lead-in to big time baseball for both teams. Often is the case where pitching has the advantage over hitting, but Clemson always finds a way to stay in games against us. I would be disappointed if we couldn't go 2 out of 3 against them this series as we come in with a lot of momentum from our play over past two weeks, which includes momentum from 2011 post season play. We need some of our vets to step it up in this series with the Tigers. If we find a way to create runs off of some pitching mistakes, particularly from the 6-9 innings, we stand a good chance to run the table on them.