Clemson University

Pitching will be early obstacle for Clemson

CLEMSON - Much of the off-season talk centered on who is not practicing with Clemson this February.

Lefty Chris Dwyer, who had ace stuff, became an unusual one-and-done at Clemson due to his advanced age. He signed with the Kansas City Royals.

The prized power arm of Madison Younginer never made it too campus, as he was lured by the deep-pocketed Boston Red Sox.

Pitching coach Kyle Bunn, who pieced together the back end of the bullpen last spring and helped the Tigers to the fifth-best ERA in the country (3.68), left for Auburn.

What could have been is a staff rich in power arms similar to North Carolina's staff that helped the Tar Heels to four consecutive College World Series appearances.

But Clemson remains a promising group, according to coach Jack Leggett and Baseball America, the latter of which ranked Clemson No. 20 in its preseason poll. The Tigers were picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division by ACC coaches.

"We have some experience in our position players and depth," Leggett said.

"Pitching roles - we'll have to figure that out as we go along."

The Tigers will hit.

Clemson returns the majority of its lineup from the team that advanced to the Tempe (Ariz.) Super Regional last spring, including All-ACC selection Jeff Schaus and a solid middle infield combination of second baseman Mike Freeman (.309 career average) and sophomore shortstop Brad Miller (team-best 53 walks).

Clemson is hoping Kyle Parker reverts to his 2008 form when he was a freshman All-American. Last season, he was competing for the starting quarterback job and admitted he was exhausted by the end of the spring.

His on-base plus slugging percentage declined by more than 100 points.

A rested and relaxed Parker could help ease the loss of Ben Paulsen in the middle of the lineup. Parker will have an easier spring football load and is working on "flattening" his swing to cut down on strikeouts.

Parker is the fastest player to reach 25 career home runs in Clemson history - faster than Khalil Greene, faster than Jeff Baker.

"I was 100 percent there (at spring practice), trying to focus on football," Parker said. "I think it kind of affected me. I remember getting sick at the end, my body was just worn out."

The major question marks are pitching-related. Who fills out the rotation? Who closes out games?

Casey Harman is set as the Friday starter and is an effective strike thrower, though not overpowering.

Scott Weisman occupies the No. 2 spot. He has one of the staff's best arms but was thought to have had better velocity pitching out of the bullpen.

"I've tightened up my slider," Weisman said. "I have more stamina."

Leggett says Kevin Brady has thrown well and is healthy after missing the majority of last season due to injury. He was one of the ACC's most decorated incoming freshman last season.

Dominic Leone, the top prep arm in Connecticut, could pitch in the rotation or in the bullpen. And if Josh Thrailkill could stay healthy, he could be a difference maker.

What is for sure is a trip to Omaha, Neb., is dependent upon Clemson pitching.

"(Losing in Tempe) just motivated us to get to the next level," Weisman said. "We went far, got a taste, but we want to get to the next tier. And that is Omaha."

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