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February 7, 2012
VIDEO: Ray Tanner
The expression says it comes full-circle, and it certainly has at South Carolina.
A year ago, coach Ray Tanner was forced to mix and match catchers as injuries and production ebbed and flowed. Brady Thomas had leg issues all season and his bat ran hot and cold, projected starter Dante Rosenberg had a cranky back and was limited to the first two games of the season and Robert Beary, as versatile as they come, was plugged in as a stop-gap who became a surprising linchpin.
Thomas is gone now, as is Beary. Tanner was looking at a sizable gap behind the plate.
Until two fillers arrived.
With just under two weeks away until the 2012 season opens, Tanner has two catchers ready to go. Rosenberg, healed and playing well throughout the fall and the first two weeks of preseason practice, is back and freshman Grayson Greiner, a highly touted prospect from nearby Blythewood, has been a mainstay under the mask since he arrived.
Tanner has never been one to platoon catchers, preferring to stick with one catcher for the great majority of the season. It's better for continuity with the pitching staff that way, the hurlers knowing the style and rhythm of one guy behind the plate instead of having to switch around for another.
But this year, Rosenberg and Greiner have challenged each other and not taken a day out of practice between them. And both have produced - such as on Sunday, when Greiner threw out five base-stealers and Rosenberg had one.
Both will play. Tanner doesn't know how much and in what situation, but both will play.
"I don't know if platoon is the right word, but we're going to play them both," Tanner said. "It may not be one day on, one day off, that kind of thing, but I like both of them back there."
It seems to be a good problem to have, two capable catchers ready to go (and a third, Erik Payne, who has been filling in as a third-stringer since his natural third base is filled by LB Dantzler). Each has been strong in practices and each has begged for more work, unsatisfied to take a day off (or perhaps, afraid the other guy may step in permanently if they do so).
Tanner likes ready-made experience on his ballclub, which is a huge reason why his teams usually feature a handful of junior-college transfers who are given the opportunity to play right away. The Gamecocks will have at least two JUCO transfers in the Opening Day lineup (Dantzler and second baseman Chase Vergason) and if he picks Rosenberg to start, it will be three.
Rosenberg is good behind the dish, with a strong arm and the ability to easily adjust to whatever pitcher is on the mound. He's said that his best attribute is his defense, as in that runners won't dare to try to take second on him, while his bat needed work.
But over the fall and spring, Rosenberg has been good at at least putting the ball in play. He won't hit any moonshot home runs, but he can poke the ball over the dirt.
"Dante is a little bit different hitter than Grayson is, but he's also a contact hitter," Tanner said. "He can put the ball in play."
Then there's Greiner, an imposing physical specimen (6-foot-5) before he dons his catcher's gear and a behemoth afterward. As unexpected as it is to see such a big man pop up in half a second and rifle the ball to second, Greiner keeps doing it.
He can also hit, and hit for power. He's knocked quite a few balls out of Carolina Stadium, and his presence behind the plate led Tanner to trot out the Landon Powell comparison. Heady praise, considering Powell played four years at USC and ended three of them at the College World Series, but Tanner said it during the first week of fall practice.
"Greiner's done a good job of just throwing balls on the money," Tanner said. "He's been able to make some good throws and our pitchers have been able to give him a chance."
A couple of drawbacks are that Greiner naturally doesn't have the same relationship with the pitchers as Rosenberg does, but Rosenberg doesn't have that much. Only two pitchers, Patrick Sullivan and Tyler Webb, have thrown to Rosenberg in a game.
The other knock on Greiner is he has a slight problem throwing the ball back to the pitcher. It's not a big problem, but one that could become one if he thinks too much about it.
Neither has had a problem that will keep them out of the lineup, and each has shown that he deserves to be in it. Tanner always has that designated hitter spot (although with Jake Williams and Kyle Martin on the roster, it's unlikely that Greiner or Rosenberg will take it), if he feels both should be in the same lineup.
But if all goes well, he won't be having to play chess with the lineup. Just put in the man who's available, playing the best or who he has the best gut feeling about, and if it doesn't work, go to the other one.
"We're going to use both of them," Tanner said. "I'm encouraged by our catching position."
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