The South Carolina baseball team has lost another pitcher.
Junior left-hander Nolan Belcher, one of the candidates for the starting rotation, sustained an injury to his throwing elbow in Sunday’s scrimmage. An MRI revealed Monday that he suffered a tear to his ulnar collateral ligament, which will cause him to miss the 2011 season. Belcher, who is scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday, will qualify for a medical redshirt and have two years of eligibility remaining when he comes back.
"Been a tough day for Nolan and our team but the good news is we will get a healthy Nolan Belcher back for the 2012 season," USC associate head coach Chad Holbrook wrote on his Twitter account. Belcher, who has compiled a 7-6 mark with a 4.57 ERA over his first two seasons, is the third pitcher the Gamecocks have lost off their roster since the end of the fall semester. Junior college transfer Wes Cook, a left-hander, left the program after becoming academically ineligible, while sophomore right-hander Ethan Carter, a returnee from the national championship team, was kicked off the team earlier this month for a rules violation.
The loss of Belcher means the No. 7 Gamecocks will now have three spots on their final 35-man roster taken by players who will not play. NCAA rules prohibit scholarship players from being replaced once the school year begins. Tanner still has 42 players listed on the roster, which must be pared down to 35 by the opening day of the season.
The 5-foot-8 Belcher, an Augusta, Ga., native, was named to the All-SEC freshman team in 2009 after serving as one of USC’s weekend starters. But control issues limited him to 29 2/3 innings last season, although he did go 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA for the national champions.
Belcher had worked his way back into the mix for a spot in the weekend rotation behind sophomore left-hander Tyler Webb and junior left-hander Michael Roth. Belcher was vying for a starting role with sophomore left-hander Adam Westmoreland, junior left-hander Bryan Harper, junior left-hander Steven Neff and sophomore right-hander Colby Holmes.
USC coach Ray Tanner was glad to see Westmoreland, who is coming off elbow surgery that kept him from pitching last season, back on the mound over the weekend. Even with the disappointment over Belcher’s injury, Tanner was encouraged by what he saw in the three scrimmages from the other pitchers.
"A lot of guys threw the ball well but didn’t have great command," Tanner said Sunday. "It’s the first time out so you don’t want to put too much in it. As we move forward the next couple of weeks, you’ve got to be a little more crisp."
Moving on up. USC’s outfield looked set heading into the season with junior center-fielder Jackie Bradley flanked by sophomore left-fielder Evan Marzilli and junior right-fielder Adam Matthews.
But junior Jake Williams has pushed his way into the equation. A Wofford transfer who sat out the 2010 season as a redshirt, Williams has impressed the coaching staff. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Williams, who played at Riverside High in Greer, batted .326 with 18 home runs and 67 RBIs in his two seasons at Wofford.
"We got those guys in the outfield who are pretty good but so is he," Tanner said. "That gives us four pretty solid outfielders. Jake’s going to be in there. He may get a chance to play and DH one of those other guys. Or he may get a chance to DH. He’s a veteran player, too. He hadn’t played here before, but he did redshirt and played two years in college. I’m pleased with the way he looks right now."
Plate coverage. Tanner was less pleased with his catchers as a group of them battles to replace Kyle Enders. The combination of junior college transfers Dante Rosenberg and Brent Worsham, returning senior Robert Beary, and freshman Greg Brodzinsk did not stand out at the tail end of the weekend.
"We’ve got some work to do behind the plate," Tanner said. "Actually, (Sunday) was not very good."Tanner still hopes a decision is coming this week on the status of Brady Thomas, who has appealed to the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility because of a medical hardship dating back to his Florida State playing days. Thomas, who batted .331 with eight homers and 30 RBIs and made the CWS All-Tournament team last season while primarily serving as the DH, could move into the starting catcher’s role if the NCAA rules in his favor.
The Price is right
. Closer Matt Price did not throw in the first weekend after missing three prior workout days due to strep throat. He should be back on the mound in the coming weekend.
Tanner expects Price to finish games as he did so well a year ago. But the coach has stated repeatedly that if he needs Price to move into the rotation that he wouldn’t hesitate to do so. For his part, Price just wants to help the team return to Omaha. He believes that it can.
"Basically, you just got to get that chance at the end and get hot at the right time," Price said. "Our team right now is pretty good. We’ve just got to get some key guys and some young guys to step up. If they do that, I don’t see why we can’t go deep in the postseason."