Before the season even started, Clemson head coach Monte Lee said his bullpen—led by Carson Spiers, Ryan Miller and Ryley Gilliam—had an opportunity to be the strength of the 2018 baseball team.
He was right.
“The guys do what they do,” the Clemson coach said as the No. 2 seeded Tigers (43-13) prepare for their first game in the 2018 ACC Baseball Tournament Wednesday against No. 11 Notre Dame (3:30 p.m.). “The success of the team is built by the players. I think from that standpoint, predictions are typically overrated by coaches because you simply don’t know until your team starts playing.
“But, I will say this and I have said it from the beginning, if you look back, I felt like at the end of the fall and at the beginning of the season that the strength of our team was our bullpen. The reason I said that is because I felt like we had a lot of guys that could thrive in one or two inning spurts.”
Miller, Gilliam and Spiers definitely thrived in their roles. Miller owns a 2.56 ERA with a 5-1 record and has four saves with 55 strikeouts and just 15 walks. Spiers has a 2.09 ERA with two wins and four saves as well.
Then there is Gilliam, the ACC’s best closer. The junior has a 0.79 ERA and an ACC best 11 saves.
“The year before we were very top heavy in starting pitching,” Lee said. “Again, every team has a different strength. I felt like our bullpen was going to be very strong. I fully expected Carson Spiers to do what he has done. I expected Ryley do what he has done and Ryan Miller to do what he has done.
“The big thing is to stay healthy and put them in the ballgame because those guys compete. They compete in the strike zone, they have great stuff and they are all different.”
Being different is what makes Clemson’s bullpen so special.
“If you look at Spiers to Miller to Gilliam they are all different looks,” Lee said. “Look at our starters. (Jacob) Hennessy, (Brooks) Crawford, (Jake) Higginbotham, (Spencer) Strider, they are all different.
“Those two righties are very different from each other. Those two lefties are very different from each other so from a hitter’s perspective, they are seeing a lot of different angles, velocity pitches, stuff that is very different. It is a tough matchup for a lot of teams.”
Gilliam, who was named to the All-ACC First Team on Monday, says the bullpen got overlooked last year because the Tigers’ starting pitchers were so good. He said they used their experiences from last season, got stronger and more durable from their weight room workouts so they could be ready to contribute this year after losing more than 400 combined innings from their starters.
Gilliam’s numbers were off the chart in ACC play. In 13 appearances, he produced a 0.41 ERA with 31 strikeouts to 11 walks. ACC teams are hitting just .125 off the righty. However, he says the credit for his success goes to Miller and Spiers for the way they have come in and set him up for success.
“Ryan has been able to throw a ton of innings earlier in the game in the fifth or sixth inning when our starters have gotten into a jam,” Gilliam said. “He has been able to get out of that jam and throw two or three innings to give it to me or Carson Spiers.”