Three times this season South Carolina has held a lead with two outs in the ninth inning, only to blow the save and lose the game.
The common denominator in all three instances? USC’s All-American closer Tyler Johnson wasn’t available to pitch. He has been sidelined for more than a month with soreness in his forearm.
But that’s expected to change on Tuesday night when South Carolina will face North Carolina in Charlotte. The junior has been cleared to return to the mound.
“We’re looking forward to putting him out there in some of those situations where we’re up a run and need one more pitch,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said Monday on 107.5 FM. “I think that’ll bode well for us.”
Johnson leads USC with four saves despite not pitching since March 4 against Clemson.
The Virginia native has made five appearances and sports a 2.70 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings pitched.
Johnson is rated as the No. 14 prospect in the SEC for the 2017 MLB draft by Baseball America.
“We’ve had a lot of close games, and I’m not docking anybody on this team, but when Tyler Johnson runs out on the mound, it’s different,” Alex Destino said.
Holbrook would like to get Johnson some work against the Tar Heels before the Gamecocks host Mississippi State in a three-game series this weekend.
“We need to get him in there to face some hitters,” Holbrook said. “Starting Friday we think we’re going to be full-steam ahead with our pitching staff.”
Relievers Josh Reagan and Colie Bowers have blown leads. Reagan surrendered a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth against Clemson and a walk-off home run with two outs in the ninth against Auburn. Bowers allowed a game-tying single with two outs in the ninth against Vanderbilt.
Still, Bowers is 2-0 with a 0.83 ERA and three saves, while Reagan is 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA and a pair of saves.
“Now that Tyler’s healthy, he brings a lot of confidence to our team,” Holbrook said. “We think he’s healthy 100 percent and ready to go.”
Who: South Carolina (21-10) vs. North Carolina (26-6)
When: BB&T Ballpark Tuesday
Where: BB&T Ballpark, Charlotte
Radio: 107.5 FM