By Trey McCurry.
With the start of the 2011 season less than a month away, TheClemsonInsider recently sat down with pitching coach Dan Pepicelli to discuss the Tiger pitching staff.
Last season, in his first season at Clemson, Pepicelli led the Tiger pitching staff to a cumulative 4.69 ERA and furthered the development of the entire pitching staff.
Looking back on last season, Pep thought it was a good year. “It was obviously a learning experience going through the conference for the first time. I had a great group of guys and I felt like they got better and better as the year went along. By the time we got to the postseason, I was really proud of the way they performed. I thought they pitched really well in some big time games. I definitely think we took a step forward over the course of the year.”
Fall also went well for the pitching staff. “Fall ball was productive,” said #24. “The guys stayed healthy and trained really hard. I felt like they had a very good focus on improving the things they needed to from last year. I felt like I didn’t have to put that sense of urgency in them. They came in and talked about the plan for each guy. They were right on point working hard and pushing forward to see if they could improve for the spring.”
With high team expectations for 2011, Pep talked about some of the goals he has for his pitchers. “You always have that stuff. We have talked a lot about focusing on process. We have, within the clubhouse, some stat driven goals, but we are focused on the process. That is just making a good quality pitch each time and keeping your head throughout the entire game. If you think about it, it is really the answer to every question no matter what situation a pitcher gets in. If you can just focus on making the next pitch a good pitch, he will be ok. That is the biggest thing. We did that last year and we just kept talking about making the next pitch a quality pitch. Just stay focused on the process and when times are tough, you can handle it.”
When looking forward to 2011, Pepicelli talked some about some pitchers would could make an impact this season.” We have a couple of new pitchers that could help us, just not sure in what role yet. Kevin Pohle is one. He is a talented freshman that has shown some flashes. Obviously he will be young. Matt Campbell and Jon Surber also show some potential to help us a little bit. I think what is most exciting to me is seeing that the returning players have gotten better. It is safe to say that across the board everyone took a step forward. Leone, Firth, Weismann, Brady. I think what you will see is that they all took a step from last year.”
One of the biggest things the second-year assistant has to do in 2011 is replace former weekend heavyweight Casey Harman. “If you look at Harman, by the end of the year he was one of the premier #1’s in the country. If you look at who all he beat, he kept facing the next hot guy and all he would do is go out and beat him. I thought he was a very good competitor and had a good gunslinger mentality. In a much different style, Weismann does the same thing. The bigger the game, he’s just a good competitor and has that same mentality. We will miss Casey and you can’t replace him, but we certain hope that the next couple of starters in that group can step up to that. It’s like I always say, Clemson has been graduating really good pitchers for a long time now and that’s the challenge of the program to keep finding that next guy that can step up.”
Another challenge Pepicelli could encounter in 2011 is the lack of lefty arms on the staff and he talked in-depth about it. “Well, we would like to have more. If you look at some of the things we are doing recruiting wise, we are focusing on lefties and trying to get a little more depth there. At the same time, you recruit the best arms that are out there. If you look at what we have brought in and what we have committed over the next couple years, we are happy with the arms. You would like to have a lefty matchup guy, but we might have a couple of answers for that. Moorefield is a guy that had a real good fall for us. He started coming on at the end of last year when we made some mechanical changes with him and he has started taking off. We are excited about him so there’s a lefty we didn’t have last year that has really come on. Then Addison Johnson has a really, really good breaking ball. He is an experienced pitcher, but had gotten away from that when he came here. But having a need for that, we tried Addison some and really liked what we saw. So you might see him some too. There’s some answers there, probably would like one or two more but we will be fine.”
Finally, Pep talked about the changes he faced last year when moving to Clemson and into an assistant role after being a head coach the previous 11 seasons. “They way Coach Leggett runs it, he gives you such ownership over your responsibilities. As a head guy I was in charge of everything. But when I came here, Coach makes you the head guy for 16 players. Here’s your pitchers and go make it work. It really made it as good of a transition as it ever could be. It allows you to be a leader and he gives you the autonomy to do your thing. The biggest transition wasn’t so much being an assistant; it was everything being so new. You’re talking about a new conference, new level of play, new people. It has been fantastic, it really has.”
With pre-season practice underway, you can tell that Pepicelli, like many Tiger fans, is ready to get going and get the 2011 season underway. Clemson’s quest to return to Omaha opens on February 18th at beautiful Doug Kingsmore Stadium against the Eagles from Eastern Michigan. Stay tuned to TheClemsonInsider.com for your complete coverage of Clemson Tiger baseball.