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Clemson baseball relying on bullpen early in the season

DAVID PEREZ // Photo Editor

Senior relief pitcher Ryan Miller (35) jogs out onto the field during the Tigers’ first game this season against William and Mary. 

Clemson baseball won its first two games of the season against William and Mary thanks in large part to their bullpen. 

On Friday, starter Jacob Hennessy, making his first career start, went 4.2 innings, giving up six hits and three runs. He did strike out six batters, but the Tigers found themselves in an early hole and Hennessy struggled in his third time through the William and Mary lineup. 

Ryan Miller was the first out of the pen for Clemson, and he pitched three solid innings. He gave up only two hits and one run while striking out two. After Miller exited the game, Ryne Huggins, Carson Spiers and Ryley Gilliam combined to pitch the next 2.1 innings and shut out the Tribe to allow Clemson’s comeback win in the tenth. 

Saturday saw a similar situation when starter Brooks Crawford, one of the Tigers’ more experienced pitchers, was pulled after only four innings. While he was taken out of the game partially because of a high pitch count, he was also struggling against the William and Mary bats. In the four innings he pitched, he gave up five hits and two runs, including a solo homer to Hunter Smith. 

Freshman Spencer Strider came on in relief of Crawford and pitched incredibly well for three innings. Going into the eighth inning, Strider had only given up two hits and one run while striking out seven. Things got unhinged in the eighth inning as Strider, possibly a bit gassed after a long outing, hit two batters and walked another to load the bases with no outs. 

On Strider’s performance Head Coach Monte Lee said, “We try to focus on bringing guys in on a clean inning. It was his first time out there and his pitch count going into that inning was in the fifties I believe. We could have taken him out then.” 

Mat Clark and Spiers came on and combined to end the inning, but William and Mary scored three runs in the process. Spiers was able to shut down the Tribe in the ninth inning and stop any potential comeback, allowing the Tigers to claim a series win. 

After game two, Lee said, “The pitching staff is doing a nice job [limiting free passes].” 

That is characteristic of Lee’s coaching style over the last two years at Clemson. Last season, Clemson pitching led the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Through the first two games this season, pitchers have struck out 29 batters and only walked one. 

Lee is confident that his bullpen is good enough to win close games this season. “The one thing that has really stood out to me is how well our bullpen has thrown the baseball and how well we’ve played defensively … we almost feel we get better as the game goes on,” Lee said. 

Players also echoed Lee’s thoughts. “We feel as if we are the best bullpen in the country …  we got guys who can piggyback off starters and guys who can come in and get one or two punchouts,” Spiers said after game two against William and Mary. 

The Tigers are deep in the pen, but they need to find answers for the starting roles. While Miller and Strider did well after subpar starts, Clemson cannot rely on relief pitchers throughout the entire season and expect to be a contender for Omaha. As the season wears on and the Tigers are forced to play more games against quality competition, the bullpen may not be enough to pull them through. 

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