Clemson opens the 2020 baseball season today in what Monte Lee calls the most difficult challenge the Tigers have faced in a season opener under his leadership.
The Tigers welcome Liberty to Doug Kingsmore Stadium for a 4 p.m., first pitch. The Flames are coming off a 43-21 season in 2019 and return a veteran pitching staff to go along with a pretty experienced lineup.
“They are going to be a tough opponent for us, we know that,” said Lee, who is 2-2 in season openers at Clemson. “We are excited about the challenge and we look forward to the opportunity to play somebody else.”
Clemson opens the season having to replace its top three hitters from last year in Grayson Byrd, Logan Davidson and Kyle Wilkie. The Tigers also lost Jordan Greene to graduation, who started 38 games last year, and Michael Green, who was dismissed from the team prior to the preseason. He started 27 of the 28 games he played in last year.
However, there will still be some older faces in the lineup as well, Sam Hall will get the start at shortstop, while Bryce Teodosio and Bo Majkowski are experienced players in the outfield. Kier Meredith, who has spent most of his first two years injured, will also be a recognizable face in the outfield.
“When you look at a baseball field there are three positions that you have to go with defense first over bat, in my opinion. Shortstop is one of those positions, catcher is one of those positions and centerfield is one of those positions” Lee said. “Every other position on the field is an offensive position first. You want to be able to play defense all over the field, but every other position in the infield and in the corner-outfield positions and DH are all offensive positions.”
Teodosio will start in centerfield, while sophomore Adam Hackenberg will be the new starter behind the plate.
With a new lineup, one that Clemson has no idea on how it will fair, the key will be to build some confidence this weekend, especially going against a good weekend pitching staff from Liberty.
“We want to play well, and we want to win. That is the goal,” Lee said. “There is no doubt about that, but it is going to be heck of a challenge. There is no doubt about that. I don’t know if we have played a team in my five years that has these types of credentials, a 43-win team that returns its whole weekend rotation. This is going to be a heck of a challenge.
“The great thing about this weekend is they are going lefty, righty, lefty, so it gives us the opportunity to do some matchups and play and platoon some young guys and see what they can do in a highly competitive environment.”
The Tigers return most of their front-line pitchers, including the return of Spencer Strider, who missed all of last season with an arm injury.
Sam Weatherly will get the start in Game 1 of the three-game series this weekend, with Davis Sharpe taking the mound in Game 2 and Strider in Game 3. Experienced pitchers Mat Clark, Keyshawn Askew, Carson Spiers and Holt Jones will likely see action this weekend as well coming out of the bullpen.
“We feel good about our pitching staff. We feel good about our defense and we are excited about the opportunity to play.”