USC coach Ray Tanner was planning on starting left-hander Steven Neff on the mound in the SEC tournament opener Wednesday against Auburn.
Then ace left-hander Michael Roth asked for the ball. Actually, he was much more forthright than that when discussing the issue with Tanner and pitching coach Jerry Meyers, who wanted him to pitch the second day of the tournament.
"After meeting with Michael Roth, he said, 'The tournament starts Wednesday,' " Tanner said.
When told that he could pitch Thursday, Roth answered, "But I can pitch Wednesday." At that point, they left the decision to him, given his experience as a veteran player and his status on the pitching staff.
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"If he wants to open up the tournament, he's earned that right, Tanner said.
Tanner and Meyers even told him that he could skip the tournament and rest if he wanted.
"That was not received very well," Tanner said.
Roth, the junior from Greer, has a 10-3 record with a 1.28 ERA in his first season as a full-time starter. In 98 2/3 innings, he has allowed 81 hits and 25 walks while striking out 87. He knew that five days rest since his most recent start against Alabama last Thursday was plenty for him.
"One extra day isn't really going to do a whole lot," Roth said of his decision to pitch the opener. "I'll be 100 percent Wednesday and I'll be 100 percent Thursday so it really doesn't matter."
Roth will face Auburn right-hander Jon Luke Jacobs (1-4, 3.59 ERA) in a rematch of South Carolina's 2-1 win on April 29. Both pitchers went eight strong innings but neither got a decision.
Junior outfielder Adam Matthews has received a green light to play in the tournament. Matthews, who has been inactive since severely straining his hamstring against Vanderbilt in mid-April, might get some opportunities to pinch-hit.
Tanner doesn't believe he is ready to play in the field, however.
"He is close to maybe being able to play. That being said, he has missed a lot of time and missed a lot of reps. So I'm not sure how effective he can be," Tanner said.
Junior outfielder Jackie Bradley, who injured the tendon in his left wrist one week after Matthews sustained his injury, is scheduled to get his cast off Friday. Bradley had surgery to repair the tendon. But Tanner has no timetable on when his All-American might return to the field.
Sophomore first baseman Christian Walker, who was named to Team USA for this summer, isn't looking too far ahead. He has not had time to discuss the issue with Bradley, who played for Team USA last summer.
"I'm trying to concentrate on the season right now and worry about winning," Walker said. "When the time comes, I'll be real excited about it. It's an honor to be a part of the team."
Home sweet home
Tanner isn't saying if he believes his team has locked up a top-eight national seed, which would mean hosting the NCAA regionals and Super Regional. He'll take it if it comes, however, especially since his team is 31-4 at Carolina Stadium this season.
"It would be nice to be here. You always feel like you're better at home than you are on the road," he said. "We're proud of our venue here. We've got great fans. We would love to be here as long as we can."
Tennessee fires Raleigh
Tennessee fired baseball coach Todd Raleigh after he failed to lead the Volunteers to a SEC tournament or NCAA tournament in his four seasons.
Tennessee announced that Raleigh was fired Monday, two days after Tennessee wrapped up its 2011 season. The Vols finished with a 25-29 overall record and 7-23 SEC record.
- The Associated Press