While new South Carolina head baseball coach Mark Kingston likes where his hitters are as fall practices near a close, he is still waiting on his pitchers to catch up.
At a scrimmage open to the public Wednesday, the Gamecocks played a 7-5 six-inning game that included plenty of walks, hard-hit balls and even a home run. For Kingston, that was encouraging in some ways, but disappointing in others.
“Our hitters are ahead of our pitchers right now. Our hitters are taking a great approach, we’re driving the baseball, we have more walks than strikeouts,” Kingston said. “So I’m very pleased with our hitting approach right now, and we need to continue to find the pitchers that will be able to help us come springtime.”
To a certain extent, that’s to be expected, as the Gamecocks return almost all of their field position starters from last season while losing three of their top four pitchers by innings pitched.
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The only hurler who’s back, right-hander Adam Hill, has been shut down for the rest of fall practices, Kingston said Wednesday.
“He threw a lot of innings last year, he threw during the summer, so we’re just being conservative, let him rest a little bit, let him get stronger come spring,” said Kingston.
As a result, a swarm of young pitchers have been getting the chance to impress Kingston, who singled out sophomore Cody Morris and freshman Carmen Mlodzinski for playing well last Thursday. On the whole, however, Kingston said Wednesday that his staff needs to perform better.
“They’re all going to get the opportunities, so it’s up to them to take advantage of it,” Kingston said. “Guys just need to attack the strike zone. If they can’t do it, then it’s going to be hard for us with pitching. So that’s what the fall is for: figuring out who can throw strikes, who’s willing to do it, who has the ability to do it.”
And while the Gamecocks are still four months away from the start of the 2018 season, Kingston stressed Wednesday that fall practices aren’t just for keeping sharp — they also impact playing time in the spring.
“If you can’t do it in the fall, I’m not going to assume that it’s going to magically appear in the spring,” Kingston said. “Guys are showing what they’re capable of, and so if they want to pitch in the spring, they better prove it right now.”
Kingston’s philosophy on the importance of fall practice extends to all players, he said, noting that practices have been longer than what some players were used to in the past as he and his staff squeeze in every allowable minute on the field.
“We’re challenging them in practice. We’re allowed 20 hours per week of practice time, so we’re not going to go 19 hours and 59 minutes, we’re going to go 20 hours, because that’s what’s allowed,” Kingston said. “We’re going to make sure those hours are very well planned and that we’re pushing them. That’s the only way I know. That’s what I was taught from long ago from some of the best college baseball coaches in the country: Practice every minute they give you and make sure you make it hard, so guys learn what it takes.”