Clemson baseball coach Monte Lee was not satisfied with the way the 2019 baseball season came to an end.
Following a 24-7 start to the year, the Tigers dropped 19 of its last 30 games to end the season. The Tigers suffered an eight-game losing streak at one point during the skid down the stretch, and then suffered an embarrassing loss to Jacksonville State in the Oxford (Miss.) Regional to end their season.
It also marked the first time under Lee Clemson did not make it to the championship round of a regional. A proud program that at one point advanced to the Super Regional Round of the NCAA Tournament nine times in 12 years, now can’t get out of its own way.
Before the dust had even settled on the 2019 season, Lee pinpointed the Tigers’ issue in his postgame press conference in Oxford.
“It has been a struggle,” Lee said. “If you look at it, we have won game one four years in a row and we have lost game two. When you lose game two, that puts your back against the wall. So, you have to have extremely deep starting pitching to be able to make that run if you lose one of the first two games.”
And that is the issue. Clemson has not had the pitching to advance out of regional.
The Tigers, who finished 2019 at 35-26, have gotten many good performances by its starting pitching in the regionals, especially in last summer’s Oxford Regional.
Clemson’s three starters—Jacob Hennessy, Mat Clark and Brooks Crawford—combined to allow 13 runs on 18 hits in just 9 2/3 innings. They walked six batters and struck out just four in the three games. The combined earned run average was 12.7.
“We have to do a better job developing starters and having guys ready to go deep into ballgames and get through lineups three times,” Lee said. “That is the key and we have not been able to do that and that is why we have not gotten out of the regional round.”
In a recent interview with The Clemson Insider, Lee said the Tigers attacked this situation head on during fall practice.
“I think Coach (Andrew) See did an outstanding job this fall of building pitch counts and letting our guys stay out there and face a number of hitters per inning,” the Clemson coach said. “We changed a number of ways we have done our intrasquad this fall. We felt like it was very beneficial.
“We limited their pitches per inning to … we started out at 15 pitches per inning, then 20 pitches and we would keep the pitcher out there for 20 pitches. What that allowed us to see as coaches, if a pitcher went out there and got three quick outs, the innings over, but he may have done that in nine pitches. So, what we wanted to do was challenge our pitchers to see ‘how many outs can I get in 20 pitches per inning?’”
What the coaches saw was there were some pitchers who were able to get at times six or seven outs in 20 pitches and face more hitters. What they also got to see if a guy was struggling some and people were hitting them, they had to find a way to get out of it because they were not going to come off the field until they got to their 20 pitch limit.
“It was good and bad, but it taught us a lot about our pitchers because they had to stay out and complete their pitch count per inning,” Lee said. “Guys may have only pitched two or three innings, but their pitch counts were 15 to 20 pitches per inning. So, it allowed us to be able to evaluate our pitchers, but also give them opportunities to pitch their way out of situations and to also get more outs in an inning than they normally would.
“We felt like our pitching got better as the fall went on because of that, so we felt like it was very beneficial.”
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