There is a rather large series of baseball games coming up this weekend in Columbia.
South Carolina, coming off its second sweep of losses of the season, at Florida, welcomes Kentucky to Carolina Stadium in the first of three challenging series to start the second half of the Gamecocks’ Southeastern Conference schedule.
USC, at 8-7 in the league, will learn a lot about itself this weekend, next weekend at LSU and the following weekend at home against Vanderbilt. Those three series could determine USC’s chances of hosting an NCAA tournament Regional, which has historically been very important to the Gamecocks’ chances of making the College World Series.
“Obviously it’s a very big weekend for our team,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “The importance of each game is magnified. The game is a big magnified based on how we performed at Florida. We’re hovering around that .500 mark in the league, and when you’re there, each game in this league is extremely important.”
Holbrook met with media vipers Thursday afternoon and offered a few tidbits on newsworthy items, and you can read about said items below …
** Closer Tyler Webb (0.75 ERA, 36 strikeouts, seven walks, 11 saves) didn’t throw last weekend at Florida because of a sore elbow. Holbrook initially expected the injury to sideline Webb this weekend, and perhaps next, but now it appears that Webb might be able to throw after all. Emphasis on “might,” as Holbrook explained …
“He is going to play catch today for the first time this week. We’re hopeful that not only can he manage today’s throwing session, but more importantly, feels better tomorrow. That’s where it kind of flared up a little bit last week. He played catch at Florida and felt pretty good and then the next day was a little sore. The doctor will look at him tomorrow and give him either a thumbs up, or he needs some more time. We’re hopeful that, in some capacity, we could use him (against Kentucky). Very hopeful. But it’s also an injury we don’t want to push and all of a sudden he’s out two or three more weeks. A little bit caught between a rock and a hard place.
“If Tyler says he can go, the doctor says it’s an injury that, really, structurally he’s clean, so we’re not worrying about that. We’re just worried about irritating the muscle or the tendonitis further. It kind of becomes a pain threshold type deal and it’s hard to pitch when your elbow is hurting. It’s just hard to command it. It’s hard to have velocity. It’s hard to be as effective as you can be. We’re not really worried with this injury about putting him out there and injuring him further. We’re more worried about putting him out there and not being as effective as he can be, because his MRI is extremely clean.
“Now, putting him out there early could afford the pain to linger longer, but it’s just something that we’re going to have to decide to do. Tyler is a very important part of our team. I hope he has a good session today and, more importantly, feels better tomorrow and the doctor gives him a clean bill of health and all systems are go. If he does (get a clean bill of health), tomorrow probably about 3 or 4 o’clock, we’ll factor him in in the bullpen. Hopefully, he can pitch.
“The doctor will let us know before the game based on how he feels when he throws today, and how he feels tomorrow. The doctor will give us a rundown and he’ll give us his recommendation and we can’t go against what our medical team thinks. If the doctor puts it up to Tyler, then it’s on Tyler. We trust him enough that if he thinks he can go in there and be effective, based on his MRI, we’re going to put him in there. If he thinks he’s a little bit still too tender and he’s not going to be able to throw the way he’s capable of throwing, then we’ll hold him out.”
** As expected, Holbrook has penned in Nolan Belcher and Jordan Montgomery for the Friday and Saturday starts. This will be a big start for Montgomery, his third since missing four because of a bone stress reaction in his elbow. Montgomery went four and three innings in his first two starts since returning, but Holbrook wasn’t surprised he ran out of gas at Florida, because that’s typical for pitchers returning from injury. Their arms just aren’t in game shape yet.
Holbrook wants to throw Jack Wynkoop on Sunday. Colby Holmes and Evan Beal are not effective starting options at this point, and Holmes might be needed in the back end of the bullpen if Webb can’t go this weekend. But if USC doesn’t get long enough starts from Belcher and/or Montgomery, it might need Wynkoop in relief. So the Sunday starting spot remains TBA.
“If we had to announce a (Sunday) starter, we’d announce Wynkoop, but we’re not going to announce it because we may need Jack on Friday or Saturday,” Holbrook said. “That’s the thought process behind that. Jack pitched well in relief at Florida. (The Wildcats) have a few left-handed hitters in there that we may need another lefty (which Wynkoop is) in the bullpen. Believe me, if we need Jack Wynkoop to help us win Friday or Saturday, we’re going to pitch him. It might rain Sunday.”
** Last Sunday, USC announced that No. 2 catcher Dante Rosenberg, who had played 12 games while spelling Grayson Greiner, would miss six to eight weeks with a broken bone in his wrist. On Thursday, Holbrook detailed his plans for the catching spot going forward
Essentially, Rosenberg’s injury means that Greiner will have to catch almost every single game. His backup is third-year sophomore Patrick Harrington, he of four career at-bats (none last year, one this year).
“That position is extremely difficult to play and you have to play the guy that’s caught the most and that would be Patrick Harrington,” Holbrook said. “He’s caught the most bullpens. He’s caught the most scrimmages. He’s familiar with the signs and how (pitching) coach (Jerry) Meyers calls pitches. He would be able to handle it fine.”
Holbrook clarified that just because Harrington is in the No. 2 spot, it isn’t going to be the same No. 2 spot as it was when Rosenberg occupied it.
“I’m not going to rotate Harrington the way I did Dante,” Holbrook said. “Grayson is going to catch 90 to 95 percent of the games in the time until Dante gets back. Very rarely probably will we have a catching rotation like we’ve had this year and maybe even some last year.
“We’ve been lucky to have Dante and Grayson both healthy at the same time. It’s kept them both fresh. I think it’s enabled them both to play very well. But I don’t think you’re going to see a situation much at any school where it’s 50/50 or it’s 60/40. It’s a very rare occurrence. We’ve been blessed with those two guys.
“It’s not out of the norm in college baseball that a catcher catches 90 percent of the games. It happens all around the country and it’s certainly going to have to happen now with Grayson. We’re going to have to make sure we keep his weight on and he keeps eating, because I wish I could lose weight like he does, because he can lose it in a heartbeat when he’s behind the plate. We’ve got to monitor that closely.”