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September 23, 2013
South Carolina pitching coach Jerry Meyers has a number of key decisions to make concerning Gamecock hurlers in 2014.
Amongst the most important determinations he must make is who will be the closer.
Whoever takes the reins has very large shoes to fill. Lefthander Tyler Webb finished tied for seventh nationally with 17 saves last season, compiling a 1.47 ERA with 33 hits and nine runs allowed in 43 innings. He yielded five extra-base hits, one every 8.2 innings pitched, and fanned 60 opposing hitters.
Prior to Webb, Matt Price registered 43 saves in a three-year period, including 20 in 2011 when he helped lead the charge towards a second consecutive national championship for the Gamecocks.
USC returns just one of the 22 saves from the 2013 season as Webb, Adam Westmoreland (three saves) and Patrick Sullivan (one) have departed. Sophomore Curt Britt had one save a season ago.
Who will the guy that steps up and takes over the closer role? Right now, Meyers is taking a wait-and-see approach dealing with a large number of young pitchers with little experience at the major college level.
"The fall is going to be a big determining factor for a lot of guys," Meyers said recently. "Some guys, you look at them and they might be a reliever based on their stuff and approach. We're going to be a little more open minded then perhaps we have been in the past. Very rarely do you have a guy come in that has just been a reliever in high school. We want to take a look at them, put them in different spots and see."
A few of the newcomers have bullpen experience, including JUCO transfer righthander Preston Johnson from Chipola College in Florida and right-hander Cody Mincey from Spartanburg Methodist.
"We have some guys with good stuff based on the recruiting process and the bullpen," Meyers said.
Physical talent alone, though, isn't enough to produce a quality closer. Mental toughness is an integral trait of most good closers, along with the aptitude and chutzpah to excel in pressure-packed situations game after game.
In short, some guys are able to do it, some can't.
"Closers are unique," Meyers said. "Some of them have a little bit different mentality than others. Matt Price was different from Tyler Webb, but they were both able to close games out for us. What we're looking for right now is a guy who is resilient, competitive and consistent.
"If that comes out of a freshman, that's great. If it comes out of someone that's stepping up as a junior, whatever it may be, we're going to give some guys opportunities to see if they can be the guy that can finish games for us."
When will the decision be made identifying the closer? It could happen in the fall or it might have to wait until preseason camp in early February.
"Sometimes it happens over time and other times guys look like they were born and bred to be the guy out there at the end of the game," Meyers said. "They just have to get comfortable in our setting here and remain confident as they have been prior to coming into our program."
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