By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Baseball is a game of repetition. Consistency is vital but often elusive.
For a manager or coach, a season can be boiled down to a search for consistent production. It can be a hitter, a fielder, or a pitcher, but coaches are always trying to find ways to make team performance repeat itself day after day.
The Clemson baseball team has almost figured out what that looks like on offense. With the return of a key piece and continued strong performance at the top, the Tigers may have found an everyday lineup they can depend on moving forward this season.
For the first time in 2014, Head Coach Jack Leggett sent the exact same batting order out for all three games in a weekend series—and for good reason. The Tigers looked potent for much of its trifecta with Florida State, though it did not matter much to the players and coaches on the heels of a Saturday sweep that gave the Seminoles the series win.
Still, it gave fans something to think about as they ponder the future of Clemson’s season on offense.
“It’s a really good lineup,” catcher/designated hitter Chris Okey said. “One through nine, it’s probably one of the best in the country—and the depth we have that’s not in the one-through-nine.”
The top of the order—centerfielder Tyler Slaton, shortstop Tyler Krieger, catcher/designated hitter Garrett Boulware, right fielder Steven Duggar, Okey, and second baseman Steve Wilkerson—has remained unchanged for several weeks. But a new infusion provided a calming hand to the Tigers.
First baseman Shane Kennedy’s long-awaited arrival happened this week. The former junior college standout is still getting accustomed to playing the position in the field, but he seamlessly transitioned back into the lineup against the Seminoles.
His return has allowed left fielder Jay Baum to slide into the eighth spot. Third baseman Weston Wilson has proved valuable at the back end of the order, even as a freshman.
There will be days when guys are replaced for rest or injury. There might be some struggles ahead. But there are signs that there is a newfound sense of calm surrounding the position players that perform for Clemson on a daily basis.
“Coach Leggett writes it down, and I think everyone agrees with what he’s putting down,” Okey said. “We just go out there and play.”
The experiment did not go perfectly all weekend long. Tough lefty Brandon Leibrandt baffled Clemson hitters in a complete game victory in Saturday’s first game. A crew of three relievers—including football foil Jameis Winston on the back end—held the Tigers scoreless for the final four innings of the nightcap while Florida State came back from an early 3-0 deficit.
In many ways, however, this is the lineup Leggett and hitting coach Bradley LeCroy have been waiting to arrive since the season began on Valentine’s Day.
“We know we can hit,” Baum said. “We’ve proved that we can. We’ve just got to keep doing it.”