Weekend Review: USC Searching For Answers
It's safe, go ahead and say it - the Gamecocks are in trouble. Sunday's game shouldn't be surprising at this point. It's been a picture of the entire season considering the hot start, the slow downfall, and the current slide that has left Carolina a mere game over .500 in conference play.
With another series loss, the Gamecocks still stand in second place in the East, but their hopes of winning the SEC and being a national seed are falling fast. USC will need a drastic turnaround, and although the hitting has come and gone, it's the pitching that needs help fast.
Harris Honeycutt had a nice performance on Friday night, but it's not what the Gamecocks are used to from their former ace. Honeycutt seems to have lost his swagger on the mound, but he still has the ability to be dominating if he rediscovers his early season form.
Arik Hempy has returned in grand fashion and is saving this team right now from any further destruction. However, the inability to settle on a Sunday starter shows the inconsistencies that are there.
Wynn Pelzer is the fourth starter in a month and a half to get the ball on Sunday. The Gamecocks have Mike Cisco back, and Blake Cooper is coming around again, but no one seems to be stepping up and separating themselves.
The biggest problem has come from the bullpen. Will Atwood and Alex Farrato, the Gamecocks' two big lefties, have struggled the past few weeks, and USC's record has gone down with them. Coach Ray Tanner still has plenty of options, but for some reason has had the tendency lately to leave guys in a little too long.
So the question remains, what can the Gamecocks do to get back on track?
First, a pitcher needs to step up and lock down the Sunday job. Tanner should go to Cisco and let him earn the weekend job back, as the battle tested sophomore has the necessary experience and tools to be an SEC starter. That, in turn, would allow Blake Cooper to be the weekday starter to give him more starting experience.
Mike Cisco may be USC's best option for a Sunday starter on the mound.
Second, keep rotating guys in and out in the batting order. With the season this far along and no set lineup found yet, Tanner should play the guys who are hot, which includes possibly rotating the outfield, DH, and giving Kline a day off here and there since he's caught most of the season. The guys need to stay fresh, but also know there is competition behind them.
Giving Steven Rienhold a shot this weekend was a brilliant move by Tanner. The Gamecock lefties were struggling against left handed pitchers, so Rienhold, a captain, got a start.
Finally, the Gamecock bullpen staff needs to have shorter outings. When a guy is struggling, I would like to see Tanner pull them sooner than later and try to save a bad situation from getting worse. Pelzer seemed to benefit from this when he was struggling, and I'd like to see Atwood and Farrato used this way too.
There isn't a better time for a home series. Remember, it's not as if the Gamecocks were crushed this weekend, as they should've won the series. Don't give up on this team quite yet.
With that said, the Gamecocks must find a way to sweep Kentucky. Tanner is one of the best coaches in America, and he'll need to find a way to pull out three wins this weekend. The bats seem to be coming around as of late, and the defense is slowly returning to form. It's now up to the pitching staff to get together and fix this problem.
The Alabama series showed that if the Gamecocks can put it all together, they can be great, but too many inconsistencies have crushed a once phenomenal season.
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