USC Gamecocks Baseball

May 15, 2013

Wynkoop solidifies Sunday starter spot for USC

Jack Wynkoop loves nothing more than riding a wave. These days, the 6-foot-5 left-hander is carving up hitters instead of waves.

Jack Wynkoop loves nothing more than riding a wave. These days, the 6-foot-5 left-hander is carving up hitters instead of waves.

Jack Wynkoop loves nothing more than riding a wave.

The big one the South Carolina freshman has caught these days, however, doesn’t have him standing on a surfboard but on a pitcher’s mound. The 6-foot-5 left-hander is carving up hitters instead of waves.

Since moving back into the weekend rotation four weeks ago, Wynkoop has gotten a good grip on the No. 3 spot behind fellow left-handers Nolan Belcher and Jordan Montgomery. In starts against Kentucky, LSU and Georgia, he has earned three wins while allowing two earned runs and one walk over 20 innings.

This thrilling ride has improved his numbers to a 7-2 record with a 2.75 ERA in 14 appearances — eight of them starts — over 521/3 innings. That has him looking forward to the final SEC series against Mississippi State and the SEC and NCAA tournaments with the same sort of anticipation that would surround a weekend surfing North Carolina’s Outer Banks with his friends from home in Virginia Beach.

“I’ve slowly been building my confidence all year just from getting more innings and more opportunities, but after Kentucky, it was definitely a big confidence boost,” Wynkoop said. “I’m really happy that I’ve been able to settle into one role.”

He began his first season as a mid-week starter, piling up four quick wins. But his first two starts in SEC play didn’t go as smoothly, which got him sent to the bullpen, where he struggled.

But when nobody else on the staff emerged as a clear-cut Sunday starter, Wynkoop was given another opportunity by coach Chad Holbrook and pitching coach Jerry Meyers.

“He kept us in the game against Georgia. He won us the games against Kentucky and LSU. He’s got some confidence going,” Holbrook said. “I don’t think you’ve seen how good he’s going to be, and he’s throwing pretty good right now. He has solidified that (No. 3 spot) for us.”

Wynkoop doesn’t possess a blazing fastball but it does have late movement. He relies on an assortment of off-speed pitches that he can locate with precision. And if somebody does get on, he has a killer pick-off move.

In his 4-0 victory against No. 2 LSU, he never reached a three-ball count while allowing five hits and no walks in his seven innings.

“I’ve just been trying to pound the (strike) zone and mix my pitches and stay low,” Wynkoop said. “Usually when you do that pretty well, you can minimize the damage and get some quick outs.”

Meyers said the composure Wynkoop showed against LSU on the road also signaled to the coaches that they’ll be able to trust him to handle a big postseason start.

“He did it in a big atmosphere, he showed some maturity, and he handled it well,” Meyers said.

It has helped that he is surrounded by veteran pitchers. Wynkoop said there are similarities between him and closer Tyler Webb — another tall left-hander from Virginia who has been a starter and a reliever in his career.

“Webb’s awesome,” he said. “He’s really knowledgeable, and he’s helped me out a lot. He’s definitely a good role model for sure.”

Wynkoop’s successful freshman year — he also had a 3.7 grade-point average — left him no time to pursue his other sporting passion.

“Surfing’s a big part of my life,” Wynkoop said. “My dad (J.C.) taught me when I was real little. I grew up in Los Angeles until I was about nine. Once I moved to Virginia Beach, I continued it there with my family and my friends. It’s just something I like to do for fun when I’m home.”

He admits that he’s not an orthodox-looking surfer because of his height.

“Most surfers are a lot shorter just because you want a low center of gravity, but I overcame that,” he said. “If you do it enough, it’s not a big deal. There are a lot of surfers out there who are tall and bigger that are really good, too.”

Wynkoop is proving that he can definitely ride a wave. He doesn’t even need a surfboard.

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