Lee 'Excited' to Get 2020 Season Started; Starters Announced
CLEMSON — The Clemson baseball team returns to the diamond in three days when the Tigers play host to Liberty for a three-game series starting Friday (4 p.m.).
'"We've got a heck of a challenge in just the opening weekend," Lee said. "We've got Liberty, Liberty was a postseason team last year, so we're going to be challenged and then we go right into the midweek and we're playing early in the middle of the week. Sometimes a lot of coaches want to kind of ease into the midweek games and we felt like, look, we got to pitch some guys. We got to see who can separate who.
"By the time we get to week three and week four we need to have a really good idea of what these guys can do in competitive environments ... So who's going to be able to play in that pressure environment when there's 5,000 people in the stands and you're playing somebody else and out of a dug out. That's where makeup and toughness and competitiveness comes out."
The Clemson offense lost its top-three hitters from the 2019 team (Grayson Byrd, Logan Davidson, Kyle Wilkie) to the professional ranks, but most of the other prominent Tigers return in 2020.
"It's a very unproven group, especially on the position player side," head coach Monte Lee said. "We've got some young guys. We've only got two guys that have played one full season as a starter in Sam Hall and Bryce Teodosio. Besides that, (Bryar) Hawkins played a good bit for us last year as a true freshman. David Sharpe did both (pitched and hit). And did both at a high level last year.
"But we've got a lot of unproven guys in terms of experience. So being able to pass the baton. That's a big term we've been using here lately. It's nine guys in that line up. And we're going to have to click together nine quality at bats, and find ways to get on base, and just pass the Baton on to the next guy. We don't have that proven three, four, five right now. But we've also had some teams in the past that hit a whole bunch of home runs. And three, four, five we're pretty dang good. And, then, we weren't quite as good as we wanted to be six through nine. I think we got a better chance to spread our lineup out and put together quality at bats. Will we have the same amount of power? I don't think so, but I didn't think we were going to finish 11th in the country last year in home runs."
On the mound, Clemson returns most of its front-line pitchers, Lee believes this year’s staff, especially the bullpen, could be his best yet.
"I've never heard a head coach say he has too much pitching. Right," Lee said. "We always want to have depth, and have quality depth, and have stuff in the early goings. And again we're talking four live pin sessions where our pitchers have thrown 30 to 40 live pitches versus hitters. And our hitters have had live at bats.
I've gotten a chance to see everybody and see where they're at. But there's some quality stuff out of this pitching staff. You look at today we have Sam Weatherly, who I think's probably our most improved pitcher from one year to the next, is throwing a ton of strikes. He's a bulldog competitor. He's a tough kid. He's got an electric arm. Left-handed. He's going against Matt Clark. And we all know Matt Clark. Just a true pitchability lefty just won a lot of games for us here."
A total of 21 pitchers, including 11 who have pitched in a game for the Tigers, are on the 2020 roster. Returning pitchers have combined for 56 career starts, while 41 of the 61 starts on the mound in 2019 were made by pitchers on the 2020 team.
Clemson looks to gain the services of two pitchers who missed the 2019 season due to injury. Sophomore Spencer Strider and redshirt freshman Carter Raffield are hard-throwing right-handers whose presence will be a big factor for the Tigers in 2020.
"Carter Raffield is coming back off surgery. Carter has been dominant. I mean we don't stand a chance against Carter in live pins," Lee said. "He has just absolutely chewed our hitters up. Spencer Strider's in good shape and looks ready to go. Obviously those two guys we're going to have to be very, very careful with simply because they're coming off the Tommy John surgery. One's going to be at about 14 months, I believe. with Carter. Spencer's going to be at just over a year by the time the season starts. So we're going to have to limit their pitch count. And we're going to have to be very disciplined in how we use them. When it's time to take them out, we have to take them out."
Lee names starting pitchers:
The starters were named by Lee Tuesday. The Tigers will send Weatherly the mound Friday, with Sharpe and Strider getting the ball Saturday and Sunday.
The bullpen will again be anchored by senior righty Carson Spiers.
Spiers has 15 career saves, tied for eighth in school history, and has only allowed 13 of 74 inherited base runners to score in his career. Spiers also has a 2.87 ERA, .192 opponents’ batting average and 86 strikeouts in 94.0 innings pitched over 62 relief appearances in his career. In 2019, he had 11 saves, tied for third most in Tiger history.
"It all starts at the back end with Carson Spiers," Lee said. "We're going to give him the ball at the end of the game."