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Tanner switches pitching rotation

All season it had been one of the seldom-noticed strengths of the USC baseball team. After all, stability never gets much fanfare.

It was only in recent weeks that the previously consistent starting pitchers got knocked around a bit. So now, with two weeks remaining in the regular season, coach Ray Tanner made his first change to the weekend rotation.

Junior Mike Cisco, the one-time ace of the staff, has been bumped to the bullpen for this weekend’s series at Arkansas, which begins tonight at 7:35. He will be replaced in the rotation by senior Nick Godwin, whose surprising surge is what led to the move, according to Tanner.

Junior lefty Will Atwood, who had started every Saturday, moves to Friday. Godwin slides into the Saturday role, while sophomore Blake Cooper remains the Sunday starter.

For most of the season, the Gamecocks’ starting pitching had been solid. But with Cisco struggling his past two outings and the Gamecocks (34-15 overall, 13-11 in the SEC) battling for postseason position, Tanner decided it was time to tinker.

Tanner said it was “absolutely” hard to tell Cisco — who started 5-1 (now 5-3) and whose 4.98 ERA is inflated by two bad outings — about the move.

“He’s the heart and soul of this program,” Tanner said. “I was probably more concerned about it than he was. But he’s a great competitor. He certainly didn’t want to be taken out of the rotation this weekend, but he may very well be in a critical role out of the bullpen.”

Cisco seemed to take the decision in stride, pointing out that “it’s not really my decision,” but accepting his role. He and Tanner maintained Cisco is in fine health, unlike last year, when the right-hander was given two weeks off to rest.

“My arm’s not bothering me,” Cisco said. “I’m just in the bullpen this weekend. That’s one thing I don’t want happening, is people look back on last year and automatically (think) my arm’s hurt. Because I feel great, and I’m ready, just like everyone else on the team, to end up the regular season and hopefully make it all the way.”

In his past two outings, Cisco has yielded 10 runs in 5ð innings at LSU, and four runs (one earned) in three innings against Florida.

Godwin has been impressive as a midweek starter. His 2.48 ERA is the best of any active Gamecock with more than one appearance, and he has beaten Clemson twice. Godwin, a junior-college transfer last year, has pitched in relief the past two SEC series, yielding four runs in eight innings.

Tanner decided to put Atwood in the Friday role in large part because of his experience.

“Every day has kind of a different dynamic to it,” Atwood said. “Friday you’re trying to set the tone. And then depending on how that goes, you’re either trying to try and make a real statement and win a series on Saturday or you’ve got to answer back and win the game on Saturday to even it out.”

The new rotation could end up being short-lived. Tanner said he would evaluate how things go after this weekend and decide how to approach the regular-season finale against Tennessee.

“Ultimately, I want to get back in the rotation,” Cisco said. “I’m not going to do anything overpowering to try to get back in there. I’m just going to stay within myself and try to pitch well when I get in there.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.