Though he was disappointed he lost his starting job, lefty stayed the course and now has earned a Game 1 start for Clemson in Oxford Regional
OXFORD, Miss. — After starting in every one of his 14 appearances in 2018, Jacob Hennessy did not make his first start this year until April 10 at home against Furman, six weeks into the season.
Though he lost his starting position from the year before, Hennessy did not dwell on the disappointment. Instead, he accepted his new role in the bullpen and did his best to be his best in whatever role Clemson used him in.
“I just continued to believe in myself and work hard,” Hennessy said. “I knew my hard work would pay off. I just stayed determined.”
The lefty’s hard work paid off alright. Hennessy will get the baseball first in Friday’s Oxford (Miss.) Regional as No. 3 seed Clemson plays No. 2 Illinois at 4 p.m., in Game 1 at Swayze Field in Oxford.
“Well, like most competitors, he wants the baseball,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “I don’t think he was very happy about the fact that he was not a weekend starter early in the year. I actually like that about him. I did not want him to be happy about it.
“If guys are happy about not being a starter than you probably have the wrong makeup kind of guys, quite honestly. Jacob was not happy that he was not starting, but it’s not like he pouted or complained or anything like that. He kept working. He took the ball when we gave it to him out of the bullpen. And when we started him, he made his starts and he did what he is supposed to do.”
Lee says they feel very good about giving the baseball to Hennessy in Game 1. He said the junior has earned the right because he has been very consistent for the Tigers, who are making their 11th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“Jacob is a great teammate. He is a great competitor,” Lee said. “He has tremendous confidence in himself. He will be ready to go.”
Hennessy’s numbers back up Lee’s confidence in his starting pitcher. He comes into Game 1 with a 4-1 record and a 3.72 ERA in 19 appearances this season. The lefty has started five games, including a gem of a performance in a win over Wake Forest on May 17.
Facing one of the best hitting teams in the country in the Demon Deacons, Hennessy retired 13 straight batters at one point as Clemson built a big lead. He left the game in the eighth inning after tying a career-best 7 1/3 innings of work. The lefty allowed just two runs on six hits and struck out seven while issuing just one walk.
“I was really confident going into it and confident coming out of it,” Hennessy said. “I was throwing the ball pretty well leading up to there. But it was a good outing. I stuck to my strengths, even though they are good hitting team and it paid off. It helped my confidence a lot.”
Hennessy’s production over the course of the last month is in complete contrast to what has occurred the previous two seasons. The Moore, S.C., native started off well in his freshman and sophomore seasons, but his arm seemed to tire as the year went along.
“His first two years in the program, he wore down as the season went on,” Lee said. “His arm is pretty fresh right now, so that looks good for us.”
In his last five outings, Hennessy has allowed just three runs in 14 1/3 innings, a 1.91 ERA.
“This is the best my arm has felt, maybe ever. It feels great,” he said. “My velocity has been up. My fastball pitches have been good, so I feel really strong going into the tournament.”
And the Tigers feel strong about him.
“The lack of innings in the first half of the season, quite honestly, you see his velocity, his velocity is up,” Lee said. “He is pitching more in that 86 to 88 range, especially for his first fifty pitches or so and a big key for him too is being able to mix a slider and his changeup.
“When he has command of his slider, he is really good.”