OXFORD, Miss. – It was not a surprise to anyone following Clemson baseball throughout the 2019 season that the Tigers struggled to find consistent starting pitching.
For the 2019 season, Clemson's nine starting pitchers used during the 61-game season combined for a 5.13 ERA. According to head coach Monte Lee, the momentum of a game starts with having solid starting pitching – meaning the Tigers have some serious work to do.
"I mean, let's look at Ole Miss. You got Ethridge and Nikhazy, and those two guys are able to go deep into the ballgame, and they win," Lee said. "So it's pretty simple, we've got to be able to get deeper into the ballgame with our starting pitching in the first two games of a regional if we're going to win a regional. That's the bottom line.
"Just look around the country right now, you look at how many teams are hosting regionals this year that have lost one of the first two games. Why? Why did they lose? Because their starter probably got knocked out early in the game, or they ran into a starter that was able to go deep into the game. That's baseball.
"Momentum is always going to based on starting pitching. And we've got to do a better job of developing starters and having guys ready to go deep into ballgame and get through a lineup three times, that's the key. And we have not been able to do that, and that's why we have not gotten out of the regional round."
For Lee and company, the journey toward fixing the problem started on the ride back to Clemson, but that process happens every season – win or lose.
"It's going to be a long, long ride back home, a lot to think about, a lot of things on my plate that I've got to do a better job of," Lee said. "That's what happens every year as a coach, you always reflect at the end of the year and look at things that you got to do a better job of in all areas of the program."
However the one area where he is not sure that he can do anything different is in the offseason program.
The Tigers, like every college baseball team, must manage their pitchers in the fall – as well as in the spring. But that is easier said than done –especially with the inclusion of three scrimmages against other teams, inner-squad scrimmages and bullpen sessions.
"Well, we haven't had a starter ... a pitcher at Clemson in the last four years throw more than about 18 innings in the fall, okay? We throw before we toe the rubber for about a month before they ever throw a bullpen, and then we throw six bullpens before they ever face a hitter," Lee said. "So I don't know from a preparation standpoint what we can do any differently, to take care of our arms and make sure they're ready. And they don't increase their pitch count but about 15 pitches per week as we move through the fall. And we never get over about 70 pitches in the fall, okay?
"So I don't know if we could do a whole lot different. You also look at our track record. We've had some injuries, but not a lot. We haven't had guys breakdown during the spring a whole lot. We've had some guys that had to miss some starts this year, but it wasn't season ending type injuries."
However, with the struggles that the Tigers experienced throughout this season and in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament the last four seasons, Lee will head into this fall doing whatever it takes to make sure that he has the arms to, hopefully, break the regional drought.
"The hardest part about the fall is stretching guys out, that's the toughest thing about it," Lee said. "So to answer your question, I think we just have to go into the fall with every guys going to start, and let's see how they do, and then we'll make decisions based on that."