With SEC play on the horizon this weekend, let’s take a quick tour around the diamond.
Roth in command
Junior left-hander Michael Roth has embraced the role of staff ace. He improved to 4-0 with a 5-1 win over Cal State Bakersfield, while working a season-high eight innings and tying a career-high with nine strikeouts. Roth is one of six pitchers in the SEC with four wins, and he ranks second in the conference with a 0.99 ERA. He’s also tied for fourth in strikeouts (30) and innings pitched (27 1/3). Most importantly, he looks in total command on the mound. Cool, collected and confident, he’s exactly what a team wants in a Friday night starter. Blake Cooper set the tone in every SEC series last season, and if Roth can do the same this year, the Gamecocks should be in good shape.
The Bradley-Walker 1-2 punch
Is there a better pair of 3-4 hitters in the SEC than Jackie Bradley and Christian Walker? In 13 games, the two have combined for a .421 average (40-for-95), 12 doubles, eight home runs, 30 RBIs, a .509 on-base percentage, and a .821 slugging percentage. Many coaches said before the season started that the very best hitters weren’t likely to be affected by the new bats, and that appears to be the case with Bradley and Walker. With Bradley hitting from the left side and Walker hitting from the right side, they provide a formidable 1-2 punch in the heart of the USC lineup. If they maintain that pace all season, it’s going to keep the Gamecocks from ever slumping too badly at the plate.
Mooney in a slump
New shortstop Peter Mooney is still looking to find his footing after a slow start. Making the jump from Palm Beach State, a Florida junior college, the 5-foot-7, 160-pound Mooney was touted by the coaches as a better-hitting version of defensive wizard Bobby Haney, who played short the last two seasons before being drafted by the San Francisco Giants. But Mooney has struggled at the plate with 11 hits in 49 at-bats for a .224 average, and he also has made five errors in 13 games. Last season Haney, who batted .263, made only six errors in 64 games. Mooney has displayed his considerable defensive ability in several instances, so it’s likely that he’ll settle in as the season progresses. And he makes consistent contact with his swing – he has only five strikeouts – so it could be simply a matter of time before the hits start falling.
Back to Fluor
The Gamecocks return to Fluor Field in Greenville Tuesday night against Furman. Look for there to be considerably less tension than last Tuesday’s game against rival Clemson. USC won a 5-4 nail-biter before a packed house, and the postgame media session was dominated by an upset Ray Tanner, who didn’t like some of the “shenanigans” in the three-game series. It’s safe to say there will be no shenanigans between the Gamecocks and the Paladins (6-11), who dropped a 14-1 decision at Carolina Stadium two weeks ago.
Morales gets it done
Senior third baseman Adrian Morales is one tough customer. He battles every inning on the field, and his take-charge style has made him a fan favorite. (After Clemson’s Will Lamb tripled in the final game last week, the pair exchanged words over a comment that Lamb had made earlier in the series.) Morales makes the tough plays at third – he’s not afraid to get dirty ranging to his left – and he’s a tough out at the plate. His .308 batting average is solid, but he also finds a way to get on base other ways. He has walked a team-high nine times and has been hit by a pitch four times, also a team high. That makes his on-base percentage .463, third on the team behind only Walker and Bradley. His steadying presence on both offense and defense gave the Gamecocks a real shot in the arm last season on the way to the title, and he’s doing the same things all over again in his final season.
Taylor still rolling
Nobody’s perfect, of course, but senior reliever John Taylor is pretty close. He has yet to allow a run in eight innings over eight appearances. He has given up just three hits and one walk while striking out 12. Opponents are batting .125 against him. With a hard-to-hit side-arming motion, he should make life miserable for right-handed hitters all season.
Bulldogs bounce back
Georgia is coming to town this weekend, and while the Bulldogs are only 8-8, they have won five straight games, including a sweep of the Dodgertown Classic in Los Angeles with wins over UCLA, Southern Cal and St. Mary’s. Although they also struggled last season with a 16-37 mark, the Bulldogs still have the talent to cause trouble for any team. USC swept the season series in 2009 and 2010, but there are certainly no guarantees it can do the same in Carolina Stadium this season.