Given Clemson’s pitching staff posted the highest earned run average of Monte Lee’s tenure as head coach, it’s not hard to see where things went wrong for the Tigers a year ago.
The end result was Clemson’s first losing season since the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration. As the Tigers embark on the 2022 season, establishing consistency within the pitching staff is Clemson’s chief objective.
“I think being able to have a weekend rotation that’s consistent and solidified throughout the whole course of the year is pretty dang important,” said Lee, who will officially begin his seventh season at the helm when Clemson hosts Indiana in a three-game series beginning Feb. 18.
Right-handers Mack Anglin and Nick Hoffman are likely to make up two-thirds of the weekend rotation, but the Tigers may use all of their team practices leading up to the opener to figure out who will join them. The same goes for a midweek starter as well as the bullpen, which needs solidifying, too.
Safe to say Clemson’s pitching staff needs to improve on its collective 5.00 ERA from last season if the Tigers are going to give themselves a realistic chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament, something they missed out on for the first time since 2008. More importantly, the Tigers need their arms to be available to perform.
Staying healthy was as big an issue as any Clemson had on the mound a season ago. Keyshawn Askew (11), now in the New York Mets’ farm system, was the only pitcher to make more than nine starts last season. Anglin, who also dealt with injuries, made just eight starts while no other player made more than six.
In all, 12 pitchers started at least one game last season. Eight made multiple starts, making continuity virtually impossible to come by for the pitching staff.
“Davis Sharpe had injuries last year. Keyshawn Askew had injuries last year. Anglin was injured for a portion of last year, so we had to adjust,” Lee said. “We had a revolving door of starting pitchers all year last year, and I think that’s the No. 1 thing that hurt us last year is we were really never able to establish consistency on that side of the ball.”
Not coincidentally, continuity on the mound has led to two of the most successful seasons of Lee’s tenure to this point. In 2017, Clemson consistently trotted out Charlie Barnes, Pat Krall, Alex Eubanks and Tyler Jackson at the beginning of games. That group paced a staff that posted a 3.59 ERA on a 42-21 team. The next year, Clemson went 47-16 on the strength of starters Brooks Crawford, Jake Higginbotham and Jacob Hennessy, who each posted a 3.91 ERA or lower.
Each of those teams finished third or higher in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but Clemson hasn’t finished that high in the division standings since. Lee admitted there’s a certain degree of luck that has to be involved for pitchers to get through a lengthy season with a clean bill of health intact, but attrition popping up is also why he said he’s been working for months to build depth within the Tigers’ pitching staff.
“That’s something obviously from Day 1 in the fall we focused a lot of our attention on is trying to develop starters to build pitch counts and build the starter mentality in every one of our pitchers,” Lee said. “That’s going to be a focus for this year.”
That includes taking a hard look at some freshmen who could get innings this season, too. Like all teams, Clemson would ideally like to be strong on the mound at the start and the finish, but Lee said there are multiple ways to get it done like in that ‘18 season. That’s when the Tigers got a major boost from top relievers like Ryan Miller (2.51 ERA), Ryley Gilliam (1.41) and Carson Spiers (2.08) to supplement their starting pitching.
“I think that’s a big factor,” Lee said. “We have to be able to identify early on how we’re going to move that pitching staff. Is it going to be starter dominant or is it going to be bullpen dominant?”
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