Cisco confident in role as staff ace

On a pitching staff widely believed to be a question mark entering the 2008 season, Mike Cisco is one of the few players who can be counted on to provide some answers for the Gamecocks. Read inside as the veteran pitcher discusses the upcoming baseball season.

Now a junior, Cisco will be assuming the role of staff ace and Friday starter. His credentials are solid, though maybe not spectacular. He started 14 games last season, going 6-2 with a 3.84 ERA. Being the Friday starter means there will be added pressure to pitch well, but Cisco is not feeling the weight of higher expectations.

"Every year the expectations for myself grow," he said. "I expect more out of myself the more experience I get. I'm just going to try to put the team in a position to win as much as I can and take it into my hands to make it happen more than I have in the past. For the most part, whether you start on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, it's the same. You go in there with the same mindset."

Helping to ease the pressure on Cisco will be what figures to be one of the best offensive teams in the SEC. With Justin Smoak, James Darnell, and Phil Disher in the heart of the lineup, Cisco probably will not be asked to win many 2-1 games. Like most pitchers, Cisco bristles a little when he hears someone suggest that the Gamecocks have enough hitting to cover up pitching mistakes. Press long enough, though, and he will admit he likes knowing he has some help from his teammates.

"I like when I feel like I can have a say-so in the game," said Cisco. "Ultimately that's what all our pitchers are trying to do: put the team in a position to win. With these hitters, you don't have to throw a shut out every time, but we're not thinking that we can give up some runs. We're going out with the mindset that we've got to hold [opponents] and pitch our game and give our team a chance to win. Hitters are going to hit, and when one guy doesn't, another guy does. That's what is nice about having a hitting lineup."

As if trying to get on his bad side, when reporters finally stop asking Cisco if he is ready for the pressure of being the Friday starter, they starting asking him if the team can overcome the "weak link" of pitching. With all the returning firepower Carolina has, pitching almost has to be considered more of a question mark. Add in injuries that have decimated the staff in the offseason, and there is good cause to wonder what kind of production the Gamecocks will get.

"We've been hearing that the pitching staff is going to be the weak point," Cisco said. "We disagree, but there's not much we can do about it before the season. We're just real anxious to get out there and show everybody that is wrong and show them what we have."

There are injury concerns about Cisco going into the season. In the middle of last season, coaches had to shut down Cisco when he experienced a dead arm. He was able to return for the stretch run, but he wants to avoid a repeat experience. To try to avoid a similar level of fatigue this season, Cisco was one of several pitchers who rested during the fall. After pitching in the Cape Cod League during the summer, he did not pitch for an extended period, only facing live batters for the first time last week.

"I felt real good, my arm felt fresh," he said. "I've been throwing in the bullpen, so it's not like I was out there trying to find everything. I still had to get back into it a little bit, being the first time facing live batters, but my arm felt real good. [The dead arm experience] doesn't affect the way I pitch now. I'm still going out there with the same mindset, trying to execute every pitch and trying to get the job done. I'm not going out there with the mindset that I don't want to have a dead arm again. Whenever I go out on the mound I give 100% and try to keep the team in position to win."

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