Clemson might have to turn to a couple of freshmen to fill in the weekend rotation
It’s not the news No. 14 Clemson wanted to hear just two weeks before Opening Day of the 2019 season, but on Thursday it was announced three players are going to miss the entire season due to injury.
Sophomore catcher Drew Donathan is out with a leg injury. Freshman pitcher Carter Raffield is out with an arm injury along with sophomore Spencer Strider, who played a crucial role as both a midweek starter and long reliever last year.
Going into this season, Strider was a strong contender for a spot in the weekend rotation.
Friday Strider explained he was simply warming up before practice last week and felt the “pop.” An MRI confirmed it was his UCL and he plans to undergo surgery as soon as this coming week so he can begin the year long recovery process.
“Well injuries are part of the game,” head coach Monte Lee said Friday. “It’s just one of those things that you have to deal with. You obviously feel really bad for the guys individually when they have to go through it, but all you can hope for is that the team steps up. The guys around them step up. That we do everything we can as coaches and as their teammates to keep their spirits up and try to find a way to keep them involved.”
Last year, Strider was one of Clemson’s top freshman and had one of the hardest fastballs on the team. The Knoxville, Tenn., native was a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball and an All-ACC Freshman selection.
He posted a 5-2 record with a 4.76 ERA in 22 appearances, including six starts.
“Hopefully these guys, a guy like Spencer Strider can help some of the younger pitchers, especially the first year pitchers who are getting ready to go through their first season,” Lee said. “Hopefully he can give them some wisdom and help them make that transition. But ultimately you just feel really bad for the guys, but there’s no point in continuing to feel bad about it. It is what it is. We have to deal with it, but we also have to move forward.”
And the Tigers will do just that. They plan to play three intrasquad games this week as well as three more next weekend to get the final feel of what the starting lineup may look like come Feb. 15, their season opener.
However, the good news is the pitching staff does return veteran arms like junior Jacob Hennessy and senior Brooks Crawford, who were the Friday and Saturday starters last season.
“For me right now Brooks Crawford and Jacob Hennessy, those guys return the most innings. So they’re certainly going to be in the conversation of being two of those three guys,” Lee said.
Clemson also brought in a number of talented arms with this year’s freshman class and as of last Friday, freshman Davis Sharpe was vying for a weekend spot.
As a 6-foot-3 righty, Sharpe has already caught the attention of many. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school and is a two-way player.
According to Lee, he was the most consistent pitcher on the staff in the fall. He hit close to .300 in the fall with four home runs and a team-high 16 RBIs.
“You have to think Davis Sharpe is going to be in that mix, Lee said. “Other guys that are potential candidates for those jobs are Justin Wrobleski, a true freshman. He’s very, very talented and will be in that mix. Jackson Lindley is going to be in that mix. Keyshawn Askew is another guy. He’s thrown really well here lately and is a true freshman as well.”
Although the loss of Strider does take away a valuable arm with experience under his belt, there are a bevy of experienced relievers in the pen who the coaching staff feel comfortable calling upon.
“We can certainly look at other guys in the program who have some experience,” Lee said. “Mat Clark, who pitched very well for us last year. Travis Marr could be in that mix.
“So we have options. It’s just a matter of those guys separating themselves, especially the guys who don’t have stripes on their sleeves, as we like to say. Those guys are going to have to separate themselves and earn it.”
The Tigers open the season on Feb. 15 against South Alabama at 4 p.m., at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.
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