Consistency Needed In Pitching Staff
With junior Arik Hempy sidelined to start the year, the Gamecock pitching staff will lack a true dominating ace in the starting rotation. However, at least the Gamecocks won't be counting on a freshman this year to be the go-to guy. USC's starting rotation will feature two returning starters and a junior college newcomer this season, and the goal is simple: stay healthy and provide consistent innings for an entire season.
The problem last season was the constant changing of starters throughout the year, which included moving Wynn Pelzer back and forth from the bullpen to the starting rotation. This year junior Harris Honeycutt will be counted on to start on Fridays and gain the early lead in weekend series.
Junior College right hander Jay Brown will start on Saturdays, and Mike Cisco will get the nod on Sundays. Hempy is expected to return in March, but look for Coach Ray Tanner to ease him into the game by putting him in the bullpen first. How successful he is, mixed with any struggles in the starting rotation, will determine whether or not Hempy will move back to a weekend starter.
The bullpen going into this season looks much more promising than last year. Many experienced arms will be called on to shut down opposing hitters before Pelzer enters. Senior Jeff Jeffords, sophomore Alex Farotto, senior Forrest Beverly and sophomore Will Atwood will all have the chance early in the year to earn Tanner's trust in key situations. Expect Atwood to only appear on Sundays, because he is the frontrunner to win the weekday starting role. Hopefully moving Beverly to the pin and allowing him to just throw one inning will make him more successful.
Some of the new faces you will see early and often are freshman Nick Fuller and junior Jordan Costner. Fuller was drafted in the third round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays but turned down the money to come to the Gamecocks and play for Coach Tanner. Fuller has been clocked at 95 mph and has a strong slider to complement his fastball. He has the chance to earn the weekday starting role as well.
Costner is a side-armer from Spartanburg Methodist who will be called upon for getting the Gamecocks out of jams. It would be a bonus if Conor Lalor comes back and provides the Gamecocks with some solid innings.
Pelzer, who Tanner says will stay in the closer role all season long, will be asked to close more than just the Friday games this year. Staying in the pin all season will allow him the opportunity to have a better chance at doing that. Pelzer needs to be able to mop up three games in a row if the Gamecocks want to make it to Omaha.
The overall goal is consistency out of this group. No one has to be SEC Pitcher of The Year, but if the starters can keep the bullpen from running dry and give the Gamecock bats a chance day in and day out, this staff will be successful. Look for Pitching Coach Mark Calvi and Tanner to find their go to guys early but use a lot of arms throughout the season.
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