Throughout the fall and into the preseason, South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston was open about the fact that pitching was the Gamecocks’ biggest question going into 2018. Behind staff ace Adam Hill, Kingston said, things were wide open among a group of younger, less experienced pitchers.
As it turns out, that question is still not completely answered, and Kingston might be planning a surprise — though he’s keeping fans, opponents and reporters in the dark about what that surprise might be.
Speaking after USC defeated North Carolina A&T on Wednesday, Kingston said the third weekend starter position is still up for grabs as he and pitching coach Skylar Meade evaluate their options. Already this season, junior Ridge Chapman has started twice to finish the weekend, while freshman John Gilreath got the nod this past Sunday against Clemson.
“We may have another trick up our sleeve. It's still early in this season and we are still going to look at different things and just different options. We're still in the first quarter of the season, so we may look at some things that maybe you haven't even anticipated yet,” Kingston said.
Ridge Chapman came on in relief of freshman Logan Chapman, who has started two midweek games this season, on Wednesday and pitched a scoreless inning, and Kingston said the junior could be coming out of the bullpen more often.
“We’ve talked to Ridge some, and Skylar has sat down with him and tried to figure out, what is the best role for him?” Kingston said. “We are starting to lean towards him maybe pitching more often. Instead of just asking him to pitch once a week, he may be the guy that needs to pitch two, three times a week to stay sharp. And so that’s something we’re looking at right now, and he may be a guy you see pitching more often rather than just once a week.”
But if Kingston is serious when he says he’s considering someone that no one outside the program has even thought of, he’s got a wide range of options, starting with another pitcher who played Wednesday — freshman righty TJ Shook, who has thrown 8 2/3 scoreless innings in five appearances this year.
Yet Kingston stopped short of saying whether he’d try Shook out as a midweek starter, much less a weekend one.
“He’s worked hard, he’s getting better, he’s one of those guys who will key for us,” Kingston said.
South Carolina has 11 pitchers who have gone at least three innings this season. Here are three of the most likely candidates to step in as a Sunday starter:
Eddy Demurias: The junior right-hander has been the Gamecocks’ closer so far this season, and he’s done a solid job in it, going eight innings in five appearances with two runs and five hits allowed. However, Kingston mentioned him as a possible starter in the preseason, and if Ridge Chapman is moving to the bullpen, it might make sense for him to take over as closer and switch Demurias to a starter.
Carmen Mlodzinski: The freshman hurler got a lot of praise from the team’s coaching staff in fall practice, but an injury has kept him from making much of an impact so far this spring. In the time he has pitched, he’s given up three runs in four innings, but it’s clear that Kingston see him as a starter at some point.
Sawyer Bridges: Before he tore his rotator cuff last year, Bridges started one game as a freshman, and he’s been sharp so far this season, giving up one earned run in four outings that lasted a combined six innings.