Chad Holbrook: Pitching will be Gamecocks' backbone
South Carolina pitcher Clarke Schmidt was named a third-team All-American last season after going 9-5 with a 3.40 ERA in 18 appearances with 17 starts.
But despite putting up impressive numbers and leading USC to the SEC East title, Schmidt feels he didn’t pitch up to his capabilities down the stretch.
The righty started the year 8-1 with a 1.66 ERA and had 80 strikeouts in his first 65 innings, but in the second half of the season, Schmidt was 1-4 with a 5.83 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings.
Schmidt believes the drop off occurred because he’d never thrown close to 100 innings in a season before pitching 111 1/3 in 2016. As a senior in high school, he threw 55 innings, and he pitched 58 as a freshman at USC.
Entering his junior season, Schmidt will again be counted on to help anchor Carolina’s pitching staff, and after a strong offseason he feels more prepared to handle a heavy workload. He will be USC’s Opening Day starter.
“The biggest thing that I think I did was mental stuff,” Schmidt said of his offseason. “Physically, you don’t really know what to expect when you’re going into a 100-inning season. But I went through it and now I know what to expect, and I know how to manage my outings and manage my innings.”
Schmidt and the Gamecocks have some unfinished business after just missing a trip to the College World Series last year.
Even though USC didn’t reach Omaha, the Georgia native is proud of what Carolina accomplished in hosting a Super Regional after missing the NCAA Tournament in Schmidt’s freshman season.
“We knew that we’d had a good year, especially for what our expectations were, but we didn’t reach them fully,” he said. “The main message was, ‘Get ready for next year and we’re going to do it again.’ The guys that I talked to, I wanted the attitude to be, ‘We still have a good team. We have a lot of returners coming back. We still have another great chance to do it the next year.’ ”
This will likely be Schmidt’s final season pitching at USC. He is ranked as the No. 17 college prospect for the 2017 MLB Draft by Baseball America, and the No. 35 best overall prospect by MLB.com.
He’s one of several juniors who could turn pro after this season, and there was a sense of urgency around the program during the offseason after USC lost back-to-back games to Oklahoma State on its home field to end 2016.
“A lot of the guys took it hard. We jumped right back into the fire and started working out again and getting ready to go,” Schmidt said. “The day after we lost, I was ready to pitch again. I feel like that was the attitude all around the locker room.”
USC coach Chad Holbrook has been impressed with Schmidt in preseason scrimmages.
“Clarke was probably as dominant as I’ve seen him here on Friday,” Holbrook said Sunday. “A very, very clean outing with terrific velocity and great command of his offspeed pitches. He was flawless.”
Clarke Schmidt bio
Position: Right-handed pitcher
Hometown: Acworth, Ga.
Key 2016 stats: 9-5, 3.40 ERA, 129 strikeouts