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Tanner adapts as program reloads

During his recent season “exit interview,” USC pitcher Sam Dyson told coach Ray Tanner he might want to pitch in a summer league. Tanner blanched. He was hesitant to let Dyson, in line to be his ace next season, put further strain on an arm that was surgically repaired last year.

Dyson sheepishly told Tanner that to play in the summer league, he needed his coach’s signature on a release form. Tanner smiled, and Dyson apparently got the message: take the summer off.

That signaled a small change in philosophy for Tanner, in what is emerging as a larger transition for his program.

Next season the Gamecocks will play in a new stadium, with a vastly different roster and an evolving coach. Tanner has been renowned for using his pitchers liberally, but this summer he has ordered Dyson and Blake Cooper, the two returning starting pitchers, to rest their arms.

“Is it going to be a hard-and-fast rule? Probably not,” Tanner said. “But I think there’s something to be said about pitchers with down time.”

The Gamecocks have more down time this offseason than they wanted after being eliminated in the NCAA tournament regionals. Although the hitting failed them in their final loss, pitching held them back during the season.

The team was third in the nation in home runs and second in fielding percentage. It was 38th in ERA.

Tanner, as he has often done, mentioned pitching coach Mark Calvi without being asked, calling him “outstanding.”

“He does a tremendous job,” Tanner said. “We have to get more talented arms on our staff. We have to be better from a pitching standpoint.”

Help might be on the way. A number of high school recruits will compete for playing time when they arrive in the fall, while three others — junior Jay Brown and freshmen Steven Neff and Brandon Miller — sat out this season with injuries.

The lineup also will face an overhaul, with as many as six new starters.

Tanner said one thing that wouldn’t change would be the expectation level for the program. He spent a great deal of time Wednesday talking about that subject, after a season in which many fans and media believed the Gamecocks underachieved. Tanner disagreed, granting only that his team could have won 45 games rather than the 40 it did.

“Our expectation will be to stay in the hunt. We’ll have different names, but we’re not going to change anything about what we expect,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you: When we’re in a position or I’m in a position that there aren’t expectations, I’m done.”

In other news:

 Left-hander Will Atwood has signed with the Washington Nationals, which picked the junior in the 12th round of last week’s draft.

 Tanner said he wasn’t surprised that junior Mike Cisco signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after being picked in the 36th round. Cisco grew up playing with USC teammates Justin Smoak and Reese Havens, who were drafted in the first round and were set to turn pro, and Tanner indicated that might have been a factor in Cisco’s decision.

 Andrew Crisp is set to have surgery on his back, which bothered him all season. He was not drafted and is free to sign with any major league team, but Tanner expects him to return to USC. He said Crisp “figures in somewhere” in the lineup.

 Tanner joked that he and his staff call junior-college prospect Justin Dalles “10 times a day” to make sure he is coming to USC. Dalles was picked in the 25th round by Toronto.

 Pitcher Heath Embree likely will transfer to Spartanburg Methodist Junior College, and outfielder Jose Rodriguez will transfer to Broward Community College.

The candidates to pitch next season for USC:


Name Year Throws Comment
Sam Dyson R-So. R Leading candidate to be Friday starter
Blake Cooper Jr. R The team’s most experienced starter
Adam Westmoreland Fr. L 35th-round pick by L.A. Dodgers
Nolan Belcher Fr. L Augusta product will be in the mix
Jay Brown R-Jr. R Missed most of past two seasons with injuries
Marty Gantt Fr. L North Augusta player also can play outfield
Matt Price Fr. R Sumter High graduate
James Rawls Fr. R Batesburg-Leesville graduate
Brandon Miller R-Fr. L Missed this season with arm injury
Steven Neff R-Fr. L Missed this season with arm injury

Curtis Johnson R-Sr. R This season’s projected closer took a medical redshirt
Jordan Costner R-Sr. R Side-armer has battled injuries at USC
Grimes Medlin Jr. L Product of Young Harris (Ga.) Junior College
Will Casey So. L Had 7.04 ERA in nine games this season
Alex Farotto Sr. L Team’s best reliever this season, with a 2.66 ERA
Craig Thomas R-Sr. L Made 21 appearances, had 6.00 ERA
Alex Burrell So. L Had 5.68 ERA in four games
Justin Hopper So. R Also an outfielder, had 5.06 ERA in four games
Keegan Linza So. R Had 3.18 ERA in 5ð innings
Tyler Musselwhite Sr. R Three appearances, 7.71 ERA