Clemson picks youth over experience to start new season

Clemson picks youth over experience to start new season

Baseball

Clemson picks youth over experience to start new season

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Freshmen Sharpe, Wrobleski start in Tigers' season-opening series against South Alabama.

Though 14th-ranked Clemson returns a lot of experience on the pitching mound this year, it will open the season with a lot of youth.

Head coach Monte Lee announced Tuesday the Tigers will start freshmen Davis Sharpe and Justin Wrobleski in its season-opening series against South Alabama.

Sharpe, a righty, will start Game 2 on Saturday, while Wrobleski, a lefty, will start Game 3 on Sunday. However, Lee will turn to experience in Friday’s season opener. Senior Brooks Crawford will get the start as the Tigers open the series with South Alabama at 4 p.m., at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.

“It was a very hard decision,” Lee said. “We felt like, more than anything else, that Sharpe and Wrobleski, from a stuff standpoint, they have starter stuff. They have velocity. They have three pitches, and we would like to give them that routine of being a starter early in the season so we can map out their week and plan out their week as opposed to giving them the call in the bullpen.”

Sharpe is ranked as the No. 7 freshman in the ACC by Perfect Game. The Class AAAAAAA all-state selection from Mill Creek (Ga.) High School, is a two-way player who can hit as well as he can pitch. He will likely DH and play first base for Clemson when he is not pitching.

Wrobleski is ranked as the No. 10 freshman in the ACC by Perfect Game and was a Class AAAAAA honorable mention all-state at Sequoyah (Ga.) High School. He is also a versatile two-way player.

“We like more of a planned approach for those two guys and feel it would be beneficial to them. We also feel like they are ready. We feel like their stuff is certainly good enough to compete as weekend starters,” Lee said.

Clemson’s youth movement comes after the news projected starter Spencer Strider was lost for the season with an arm injury on the first day of practice. Many figured Strider’s injury perhaps locked up a spot for junior Jacob Hennessy, who started 14 games last season as a weekend starter, including last year’s season-opener.

Hennessy posted a 4-3 record in his 14 starts with a 3.91 ERA that included 54 strikeouts and 14 walks.

“I think like anybody, who has stripes on his sleeve and has started and pitched in the bullpen, he wants to start,” Lee said when asked how Hennessy handled the news of not being a weekend starter. “I also think Jacob is one of the best teammates you could ask for and I think he understands that regardless of his role that he is going to try and dominate this role and do the very best he can to help us win games.”

The lefty has experience coming out of the bullpen. In 2017, he had three saves and posted a 2-1 record as a reliever. He had a 3.82 ERA in 26 relief appearances.

“He has pitched out of the bullpen and has started for us, so he has done a number of things for us. We certainly feel like Jacob Hennessy is going to pitch that first weekend, it is just a matter of when,” Lee said. “He will be one the first guys we go to out of the bullpen.

“He throws strikes. He has three pitches. He has experience. He is going to be a very valuable piece for us to try and win the series this upcoming weekend.”

As for Crawford, he is excited to get the baseball first to start the season.

“It is something that you kind of dream about when you first come in here,” Crawford said. “The first two years I was a reliever and last year I was a Saturday guy. I’m just thankful for all the hard work. I’m just kind of excited about it and I am looking forward to it.”

In his first year as a weekend starter, the righty went 8-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 16 starts as the Saturday starter. He pitched 80 2/3 innings in his 16 appearances. The Tigers went 14-2 in the 16 games he started in 2018.

“Coach (Andrew) See told me to be the guy I was last year and to build off of that,” Crawford said. “That is kind of what I was on Saturdays. He told me to take that mentality and just use that in the opener on Friday.”

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