Clemson baseball

Clemson's Leone seeks inner calm

Emotions sometimes get the best of pitcher

The (Charleston)March 9, 2012 

— Dominic Leone’s best attribute can also be his undoing.

The Clemson junior is perhaps the most competitive player on the Tigers’ roster. Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli says Leone is a starting pitcher “with a closer’s mentality.”

The Connecticut native’s competitiveness is desirable characteristic because he will not give in to a hitter, he will not give up on a start, and the moment is never too big. As a freshman in 2010, he tossed 52/3 quality innings in the decisive third game of the Clemson Super Regional to beat Alabama and send Clemson to the College World Series.

“I used to be the hothead,” Leone said. “I would demand perfection from myself. … As I’ve grown and matured, I’ve learned how to control that into an on-field intensity instead of an anger-type thing. But I’ve always had that competitive edge.”

Still, channeling that spirit and controlling his pitches is an ongoing battle, something he’ll try to manage this weekend against No. 8 North Carolina (10-2), a series that opens at 7 p.m. today at No. 20 Clemson (6-4).

When Leone gets too amped up and aggressive, he gets in trouble. His mechanics break down, leading to a loss of control like last Saturday at South Carolina when Leone allowed six runs, four hits, three walks while hitting two batters in 21/3 innings. He’s walked seven batters in 13 innings this season and has a 6.75 ERA in three starts, after posting a 3.70 ERA last season.

Pepicelli says he has two Friday-caliber starters in Kevin Brady and Leone. What the team has learned about itself is it needs both Brady and Leone to consistently pitch like aces as Clemson’s run producing capabilities are down.

When Leone becomes “too amped up” as Pepicelli describes the phenomena, Leone tries to throw hard, and the result is he releases the ball too early.

Pitches arrive up in the strike zone.

“When guys are really hyped up and emotional, you’ll see them want to jump right into their release,” Pepicelli said. “It appears they blow open and leave the ball behind them (in their delivery) and the ball ends up high and outside. When you come out of your balance point (the pause before moving toward home plate in a pitching delivery) you need to be able to glide in direction of home plate. You don’t want to start rotating until your front foot hits the ground.”

Part of the challenge is psychological, making a pitcher believe a lower mph reading on a radar gun can be better than a higher reading.

Leone can throw as hard as 94 mph but Pepicelli said he is best when he is throwing 90-92 mph, keeping the ball lower in the zone and with better natural movement.

“Baseball is too tough of a game to let everything affect you,” Leone said. “Maintaining consistent command of all four of my pitches is what’s going to set me in that next tier of pitcher.”

If he can harness his emotions and control, he can give Clemson a pair of aces, which is one baseball’s great competitive advantages.

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