After just 9 innings into the Clemson baseball season, I’d like to give my extreme over-reactions to the season opener. We all know that not a lot can be told about a baseball season after one game; however, I will try.
Beggars can’t be choosers, especially after winning game 1 vs. the University of Cincinnati Bearcats 5-0 on a cool South Carolina February afternoon.
Ahead are some facts from opening day at “The Doug” followed by my overt over-reactions:
Fact: Pre-season All-American Davis Sharpe started the season on the mound and looked exactly as advertised. Facing only one over the minimum, the third-year sophomore right-hander was electric in his first start of the season. Five innings pitched, allowing only one (1) hit and striking out 9 Bearcats.
Over-reaction: It is early in the season, but if Sharpe can have this type of command and control of all of his pitches, he is going to be vying for All-ACC, All-American, and All-every other award that can be imagined and conjured up.
Fact: Mat Clark came in after Sharpe’s gem and threw the remaining four (4) innings and ALSO faced only one over the minimum hitters, struck out 6, and had Bearcat hitters off-balance throughout the entirety of his relief appearance.
Over-reaction: What a pairing this could work out to be for the Tigers on Friday nights. It was the perfect match of Sharpe’s 88-92 mph pin-point control and Mat Clark’s textbook crafty lefty style doing just enough to keep opposing hitters off-balance. Clark throws nothing straight and comes from many different arm angles. He is extremely effective with three pitches, none of which are overpowering, but enough to keep hitters guessing. What a Friday night pairing for the remainder of the campaign.
Fact: Highly-touted Freshman Caden Grice went 2-4 with a double and a run batted in during his collegiate debut.
Over-reaction: Grice is the most talked about Clemson freshman since Seth Beer. At 6’5”, Grice looks the part. Head Coach Monte Lee said that Grice would be a little bit of a swing and miss type of hitter, but we did not see that in the opener. While most Clemson hitters were working the count and having extended at-bats, Grice was more apt to swing early in the counts and make contact. Grice is going to be a star at Clemson whether he’s on campus for three or four years. His swing is effortless and full of contact... at least through one game. I love what we are going to get from the freshman.
Fact: Bryce Teodosio had two hits a (shortened) season ago. He went 3-4 in the opener.
Over-reaction: This writer has been a fan of Teodosio since he stepped foot on campus; however, the defensive specialist has yet to find his stride on the offensive side. He hit .165 during his freshman campaign, .215 in his sophomore season, and .167 in the shortened third season at Clemson. However, with the injury to snake-bitten Kier Meredith, Teodosio will continue to start in centerfield and any offense will be a bonus. HOWEVER, I think after night one at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Teodosio will have his breakout season and be a .250+ hitter, while continuing his defensive genius in center.
Fact: Clemson did not commit an error on opening day, something that has seemed to rear its ugly head in big moments during the Monte Lee era.
Over-reaction: Monte Lee has a lot of young depth at many positions and gone are the days of Jack Leggett and knowing exactly what the lineup was going to be day-to-day. With some injuries coming into the season, especially to players like Meredith in the outfield and catcher Adam Hackenburg, we are likely to see even more players than usual. (WHERE’S THE OVERREACTION?) Here it is. It’s hard to get the defensive chemistry with so many injuries and many different parts plugged in from day to day. However, shortstop James Parker is the key cog in the wheel and will help provide consistency at a key position to keep the entirety of the defense sound. This will be the best defensive team that Monte Lee has had in his six years at the helm.
Fact: This Clemson team scored one run through five innings against a team that they were expected to beat soundly in the opening weekend of the year, before opening it up a bit and winning 5-0.
Over-reaction: I was told by a very good source (Jason Priester of AllClemson.com) that this will be the best group of pitchers that Monte Lee will produce. However, (dating myself) “Chicks dig the long ball.” In an opening night that saw #1 Florida score 13 runs and highly ranked Georgia Tech score 12, the same as in-state rival South Carolina, Clemson only managed 5, but gave up 0. I am hoping to see way more offense from the Tigers this season. Although looking at this lineup from opening night, I cannot say with any certainty where it is going to come from. Catcher Jonathan French went to the yard in the opener but did not wow me with his at-bats for the night. Grice has all-field power, but outside of one very hard hit ball, I didn’t see it after a small sample size of at-bats. Teodosio was 3 for 4, but we can only hope that continues throughout the remainder of the season. James Parker added two hits and Dylan Brewer had great at-bats going 1-2 with 3 walks. I am looking for some firepower from guys like Bryar Hawkings, Elijah Henderson, and Blake Wright, as well as Kier Meredith and Adam Hackenberg when he comes back to full health.
As good as Sharpe and Clark were, there are going to be off days for the both of them and the bats are going to have to step up. I am interested to see where the majority of the offense comes from.
So if you have read this far, you have to be asking yourself why are we having over-reactions after only one game (or two games as of this writing)? It has been over 300 days since Clemson has played a baseball game. In my days as a student, there was nowhere better to spend a Spring Clemson weekend than beautiful Tiger Field aka Doug Kingsmore Stadium. The anticipation of the season overwhelmed me. As I sat in front of my TV and streamed the game on the ESPN app, my excitement overcame me and I needed an outlet for my over-reactions. So here it is.
Bottom Line: Clemson beat Cincinnati opening night and seemingly all went well for the Tigers outside of some questionable baserunning. Sharpe and Clark were nothing short of tremendous on the mound and the Tigers got good at-bats up and down the lineup and did just enough to win. The common theme from many in the media is that this will be Monte Lee’s deepest, best pitching staff in his tenure. If opening night is any indication, they are correct. If we have learned anything from previous non-Covid shortened seasons, teams like Vanderbilt stack that pitching rotation and load the lineup with contact hitters who stress opposing pitchers by running the bases well fare exceptionally well in the postseason. After one night at the stadium, it looks like Monte Lee has bought into that philosophy and is on his way to rebuilding a (perennially) very successful baseball program.
If one night in Doug Kingsmore is any indication, these Tigers will have a great season.