My thoughts on a successful weekend series against South Carolina.
What I Liked
- After a long walk around the concourse area in Friday nights opener, I grabbed a $9.00 beer and got ready for the game to start. At the time, I figured I was going to need a lot more of those $9.00 beers to be able to watch Clemson’s offense in the wind and cold face a dominant pitcher in Carmen Mlodzinski. However, after watching Friday’s game, I realized what I didn’t factor in was how dominant Sam Weatherly could be. My mind went straight to how can Clemson score any runs against Mlodzinski vs. how can South Carolina score runs off of Sam Weatherly? By now, you know the story of how that game unfolded. Weatherly was masterful in 7 inning, and didn’t allow a hit while striking out 11. As you saw in glimpses on Saturday, and that second inning on Sunday, this South Carolina team had some decent to above-average pieces in their order. But they were no match for Weatherly. And now you have that feeling that if he’s at his best, how many teams this year can be a match for him?
- Clemson hit three home runs in Friday night’s affair, which was exciting in itself. But more interesting than just the home runs, were that they were all with two strikes. Dylan Brewer delivered a big home run on a hanging changeup to open the scoring for Clemson. Davis Sharpe turned on a 95MPH fastball and hit his first home run of the year an inning later. And then Kier Meredith joined the fun and hit a laser shot to right-center. Clemson certainly didn’t need all of that offensive firepower on Friday to win, but it was a big confidence boost to this team moving forward.
- In my preview article for the weekend, I noted Clemson’s significant advantage was the bullpen, and Sunday was a prime example of that. In the first inning, the South Carolina hitters face 97 mph heat, and a hard breaking ball from Spencer Strider. In the fifth inning, they see Mat Clarke, a soft throwing lefty that can throw all pitches for strikes in any count and nibbles on the corners. And then in the eighth they face Carson Spiers, a hard-throwing righty that was somewhat similar to Strider. That’s tough to handle. Especially when they were all three in the zone like they were on Sunday.
- The seventh inning was the big inning for the Tigers in game three. Henderson did a great job hitting the ball through the first and second base hole for a single, and then Monte Lee put on the hit and run (which Kier executed perfectly) to have runners on first and second with one out. The Gamecocks then brought Tringali out of the bull-pen who Clemson saw on Friday night (I thought it was the right move). The Gamecocks bullpen (as I wrote in preview) has trouble throwing strikes, but he is usually more reliable. He promptly greeted Sharpe with a fastball in the back to load the bases. Hawkins delivers again with a SAC fly to left-center to tie the game up. Parker then has the hit of the year with his 2 run double into the right-center gap. Hackenberg then followed with a single to score Parker (what a slide by the way).
- What about Bryar Hawkins this weekend. I wrote in the ETSU review that I was hoping that the double he hit to right-center would help light a spark in him. And it looks like it did. He hit the ball well this weekend. He’s someone that we know can hit, and he needed to get his confidence up. He did a great job Sunday putting the ball in the air and knocking in two runs.
- James Parker looked rough during Friday and Saturday’s game but started to get a feel for things in Sunday’s game. His play at SS on the first hit of the game was a special one. He then broke up the no hitter and then hit the double in the seventh that plated two runs. He then scored the fifth run off of Hackenberg’s RBI single in the seventh with a spectacular slide at home. I did think it was interesting what Monte said in the post-game presser. He noted that it was a great slide by Parker, but he didn’t have a big enough lead at second base and wasn’t even being held on by the SS or 2B. If he gets a more significant lead at second, he probably scores more relaxed than he did. That shows that detail matters, and that could come back again for the Tigers.
What to keep watching
- On Saturday, Sharpe had trouble locating breaking balls, threw fastballs over the middle of the plate, and South Carolina didn’t miss them. Sharpe doesn’t have the velocity to leave fastballs over the middle of the plate. He has to be able to locate offspeed, and work hit corners with his fastball. He just wasn’t able to do that on Saturday.
- The pitching rotation was strange Saturday. I would have thought we would see Hoffman, Askew, or Clayton in long relief, but we saw Raffield followed by Estridge, who was then followed by Ammons. I assume they’re moving Hoffman or Clayton into that weekday starting role, which is surprising, but the game was still very much in the balance whenever we made those moves.
- Clemson only had three players get hits on Saturday. It was a rough day at Segra Park and surprised me with their matchup. I thought Clemson would have the advantage with a first-time pitcher (Farr) going against Sharpe, but it didn’t work out that way.
- After shutting down the Gamecocks in the first on Sunday, Strider came out for the second inning, and South Carolina got four hits off of him, all swinging at first-pitch fastballs. It goes to show that at this level, if you throw fastballs over the heart of the plate and can’t locate breaking balls, you’re going to get hit hard. He came out in the next two innings and battled, and put together a nice outing for Clemson.
- Clemson still needs answers offensively at a few positions in the order. As I have said before, Hall has proved he’s an adequate offensive player but lacks confidence right now. I think you keep him in there for the time being. He’s just as good offensively as Starbuck at second and Majkowski in CF currently. The only difference is he’s proven.