Tyler Webb knows the pressure of closing baseball games can be immense on its own. But the senior left-hander understands that he carries an additional burden as he moves into the role of South Carolina’s closer this season.
He has to replace Matt Price, the hard-throwing right-hander who helped pitch USC to two national championships and set the program’s all-time records for appearances (102) and saves (43).
The quiet Webb acknowledges the greatness of Price, who’s pitching in the Baltimore Orioles organization, while he notes that he can only stay true to himself.
“There’s always pressure in that role, and definitely Matt was a great closer. I’m not trying to match him by any means,” Webb said. “We have different throwing styles, and if I went head-to-head with Matt, I don’t really like my chances as a closer. I’m just trying to do my best and throw as well as I can.”
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His best was pretty good in a setup role last season, when he posted a 6-1 record with three saves and a 1.56 ERA in 39 appearances, the second-most in a season in program history.
Pitching coach Jerry Meyers is convinced the 6-foot-6 Webb, who struck out 58 hitters in 572/3 innings, can move that success from the seventh and eighth innings into the ninth inning. Meyers concedes replacing a pitcher like Price can come with hazards, which is one of the reasons he settled on a veteran like Webb.
“That’s in his mind, and it’s in all of our minds, too. But we don’t want to look at it like we’re putting the weight of the team on his shoulders like we were with Matt, by any stretch,” Meyers said. “Now, if he develops into that, great. But he has had the ball trying to get those crucial outs toward the end of the game, and many times he handed it off to Matt to get the last few.”
Webb relies on a fastball that can touch the low 90s, an excellent changeup, and a solid slider to get hitters out. He hides the ball well coming out of his hand, which makes it harder for batters to pick it up. He keeps the ball down in the strike zone and can move it in and out.
Although he came to USC as a starter — he started 12 games in his first two seasons — he has settled comfortably into the bullpen, a role he prefers because it involves less thinking and more opportunities.
“The buildup (related to starting) every week isn’t there,” he said. “You’re waiting all week to get your one shot. Then you’re here four hours before and no one is with you. In the pen, you’re down there hanging out with the guys. The phone rings, your number is called, and you just go out there and throw.”
The biggest adjustment to being a reliever involved bouncing back more quickly so that he could make multiple appearances within a week. After doing that a number of times last season, as well as in preseason scrimmages, he’s ready.
“With another year of experience and knowing what I need to do physically to get back ready to throw in the same weekend, I’m pretty confident — if the pitch count is kept within reason — that it shouldn’t be a problem for me to bounce back,” Webb said.
Meyers has no doubt that Webb’s mental approach, as well as his durability, will allow him to make the transition to closer, noting those three saves as well as 102/3 scoreless innings at the College World Series in four appearances. And, although others will assist Webb in the late innings, he’s the closer starting with today’s season opener against Liberty.
“If there’s a one-run game in the ninth inning (today), and Tyler hasn’t pitched yet, we’re calling on him to get the last three outs,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “He’s experienced, he throws strikes, he’s confident. We’re very comfortable putting him in there.”