When Clemson begins pre-season practice for the 2019 season on Friday, it will have a nice blend of a veteran starting staff and a young, but talented bullpen.
“The credit, first and foremost, when it comes to pitching is the outstanding job that (pitching coach) Andrew See does,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “He and Bradley LeCroy did an outstanding job of recruiting in my opinion what is the deepest group of pitchers that we have brought in from a talent and projectability standpoint.”
One of the luxuries Clemson does have this year is that it returns two weekend starters in Brooks Crawford and Jacob Hennessy. Crawford led the Tigers with an 8-2 record last season, while Jacob Hennessy is back after pitching 71 1/3 innings.
“Both of those guys threw significant innings for us last year. This time last year, we did not have anybody returning that had started for us,” Lee said. “Jacob and Brooks both did an outstanding job last year.”
Crawford was 8-2 in 16 starts with a 3.24 ERA in 2018. Opponents hit .234 off him in 80 2/3 innings. He had 58 strikeouts to 18 walks.
Hennessy was 4-3 in 14 starts with a 3.91 ERA. He pitched 71 1/3 innings. Opponents hit.259 with 54 strikeouts and 14 walks.
As far as the bullpen goes, the Tigers must replace All-American closer Ryley Gilliam and mid-relief pitcher Ryan Miller. Gilliam had 11 saves and had a 1.41 ERA, while Miller was 7-1 in 26 appearances and had four saves. He pitched 71 2/3 with an ERA of 2.51.
The good news is the return of Carson Spiers to the bullpen. Spiers returns with the best ERA, with an average of 2.08. He also had the most appearances of any returning pitcher with 29 and the most saves with four.
Opponents hit just .149 against Spiers last year.
Clemson also returns Spencer Strider and Sam Weatherly to the mound.
“Those guys threw some significant inning for us last year and did some really good things for us,” Lee said. “I feel like those guys are better.”
Strider had 70 strikeouts for the Tigers last season and was 5-2 in 22 appearances, including six starts.
“Strider is going to be a factor,” Lee said. “He is throwing harder. He has been up to 94 and 95 mph a lot this fall. We certainly expected him, along with Hennessy and Crawford to be in the mix for one of those weekend spots.”
Weatherly made eight appearances and started five of them. He had no decisions in 2018.
“Probably the most improved pitcher on our staff this fall was Sam Weatherly,” Lee said. “He went out this summer and focused strictly on pitching. He came to Clemson as a highly touted two-way prospect and we gave him the opportunity to do both. We think trying to do both at this level is extremely difficult and he made the decision that he needed to focus strictly on pitching.
“It has paid dividends for him. He was much, much better this fall.”
Weatherly held opponents batting average to .044 this past fall.
“He is throwing harder and his stuff is better,” Lee said. “He is more consistent.”
Because Crawford and Hennessy have stripes as weekend starters that they will get first looks there, but he feels Weatherly is an option to move to the weekend as well. If he does not start, then Lee says he likes Weatherly as a power-lefty out of the bullpen that could play a major role for them.
Clemson will begin pre-season practice Friday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson. The 2019 season begins on Feb. 15.