USC Gamecocks Baseball

After missing a month, Tyler Johnson ready to close games

Chad Holbrook recaps blowout loss to UNC

USC loses to Tar Heels by 15 runs for second straight year
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USC loses to Tar Heels by 15 runs for second straight year

Tyler Johnson’s first thought after leaving the game against Clemson on March 4 with arm soreness wasn’t about how long he would be out or if the injury might hurt his projection as a high draft pick.

Instead, South Carolina’s All-American closer was upset that he would be unable to help USC win games for a period of time.

“My emotions immediately following Clemson were more of disappointment in myself,” Johnson said Thursday. “I take pride in being a pretty physically fit person, and I felt like I had let my team down, that I’d make it a little bit tougher on them.”

He ended up being out 38 days and had to watch some tough defeats.

The day after his injury he watched from the dugout as Clemson star Seth Beer hit a game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth inning.

He was also at Auburn when the Tigers hit a three-run walk-off homer a few weeks later with two outs in the ninth to win by one, and last weekend when Vanderbilt tied the game with two outs in the ninth on a single. The Gamecocks lost all three games, and nine of their 11 losses this season are by one or two runs.

“Quite honestly, it’s been pretty tough sitting there watching us play,” Johnson said.

Josh Reagan and Colie Bowers had opportunities to close out games in Johnson’s place.

Reagan blew saves against Clemson and Auburn, while Bowers surrendered the game-tying hit against Vanderbilt, but overall the two have been solid. Reagan is 3-1 with two saves and a 2.73 ERA, while Bowers is 2-0 with three saves and a 0.83 ERA.

When Johnson wasn’t watching games in person, he listened on the radio, unable to bring himself to watch the games on TV or online.

“I’m not good at watching us play,” he said. “It’s nothing against our guys; it’s just very painful.”

That pain is now gone, as is the pain in his arm.

Johnson returned to action Tuesday against North Carolina, pitching a perfect eighth inning with a strikeout. He said he held back a little against the Tar Heels, not wanting to throw 100 percent in his first outing in more than a month and with the game out of hand. Still, his fastball was in the mid to upper 90s, according to USC coach Chad Holbrook, and his strikeout came on a 98 mph fastball.

“We feel good about our chances with the game on the line because he throws the ball so dang hard,” Holbrook said. “He’s got great command. He’s not going to walk you. He fields his position well. He holds runners well. He does everything you’d want a relief pitcher to do.”

Johnson does not expect to be used any differently the rest of the year than he was prior to the injury.

“It wasn’t an overusage issue any way,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I think coach knows that I’m available whenever I feel fit and able to pitch just like I would have been before.”

That is good news for Gamecocks ace Clarke Schmidt and the rest of South Carolina’s pitching staff.

“Everyone’s seen the talent he has,” Schmidt said. “When you have a guy like that in the back end of a bullpen, it’s special, especially when you’ve lost a lot of close games.”

USC vs. MSU

Who: South Carolina (21-11, 7-5 SEC) vs. Miss. State (23-12, 8-4)

When: 7 p.m Friday; 4 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Founders Park

TV: Sunday – SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 The Game

Pitching Matchups

Friday: USC, Clarke Schmidt (4-0) vs. MSU, Konnor Pilkington (2-3); Saturday: USC, Wil Crowe (3-2) vs. MSU, TBA; Sunday: USC, Adam Hill (2-3) vs. MSU, TBA

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