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April 2, 2013

Arms race the topic as USC hosts CSU

When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Carolina Stadium, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: SportSouth
Probable starting pitchers: Charleston Southern - RHP Stephen Leopard (1-1, 5.23 ERA). South Carolina -- RHP Colby Holmes (2-2, 4.20)
Notes: South Carolina is back on a five-game week, although it got an extra day off after taking its first turn (of three this season) in the SEC's Thursday-Friday-Saturday series. … USC will be on the road for seven of its next eight games, although Wednesday's game in Greenville is technically a neutral site. … USC may get some new faces in the lineup tonight, after Chad Holbrook said that he needed to start seeing what others can do. USC begins the second half of the season tonight. … Center fielder Tanner English is questionable for tonight. He may be out just to rest his tender shoulder. … Charleston Southern features coach Stuart Lake, a former USC assistant. … Tyler Webb has taken over the national lead in saves (11) after recording three against Texas A&M.
Next up: USC plays Furman at Fluor Field in Greenville at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

The good news is that staff ace Jordan Montgomery should - and it's always a maybe until he actually climbs the mound - pitch this weekend at Tennessee.

The other news is that No. 15 South Carolina still has to get through two midweek games, beginning tonight when Charleston Southern comes to town, and that will require at least two midweek pitchers. Most likely more, considering that the Gamecocks (22-6) are highly unlikely to get two complete games back-to-back, and that after having to heavily lean on middle relief specialist Adam Westmoreland and closer Tyler Webb over the weekend, they would prefer not to go to them.

Simply, it's time for USC's other pitchers to show what they can do. Saturday's win over Texas A&M was the 28th game of the season, the halfway point. The Gamecocks aren't going to get through the next 28 and a postseason relying on two set starting pitchers, a third that switches in and out, one middle reliever and a closer.

"We've got some fresh arms down there," coach Chad Holbrook said. "We didn't use Curt Britt, we didn't use Vince Fiori over the weekend, we didn't use Colby Holmes. Patrick Sullivan only threw 2-3 of an inning. (Joel) Seddon and (Forrest) Koumas are fresh, and will be ready to help us, as is Josh Knab. We got some guys down there that can help us on Tuesday or Wednesday."

They're going to have to. Montgomery may pitch this weekend, but Holbrook made it clear that if he has any discomfort whatsoever in throwing a bullpen today (pushed back from Monday after Montgomery felt a twinge), he will not pitch until he is fully ready. He also said that if Montgomery got a clean bill of health, he was looking at him as a starter, most likely on Saturday or Sunday since Nolan Belcher has clearly earned a Friday spot.

But that's all up in the air. USC will send Colby Holmes, who was dropped from the weekend rotation but had a masterful outing against College of Charleston last week, to the mound against the Buccaneers (11-16) tonight and hope that they could possibly bring him back for some work this weekend. With Westmoreland and Webb hopefully on the shelf until the SEC weekend (Holbrook wouldn't hesitate to use them, but has to keep an eye on keeping them fresh for the stretch run), that brings the other pitchers to mind.

Sullivan has been one of the primary pitchers to begin warming up when starters tire, but his last outing was not good and his season totals stand at a 1-0 record, 4.30 ERA and 24 hits in 23 innings. Fiori has been strong, but has only pitched 3 1-3 innings over five appearances. Britt is recovering from a stomach bug that swept through the clubhouse and could be considered a starter.

Seddon and Koumas are two arms that USC has high hopes for, but each has struggled to get on the mound this year, with a combined 18 1-3 innings over 12 appearances. Knab has given up three hits, a run and a walk in 2 1-3 innings.

If USC gets any further into the bullpen, it's going to be sorely tested against CSU and then against Furman. But at least it would be saving the starters, and perhaps its two most important relievers, for the SEC games.

Many decisions to make, but Holbrook has already had plenty of experience with that. Injuries have forced him to shuffle and re-shuffle his lineup; even with health, he may keep doing it after his defense has been flagging.

"We're going to let some things unfold this week, in regards to this. What we do with Colby in the middle of the week will determine some of that," Holbrook said. "We've got a lot of questions to ask this week, as it unfolds. But it's a good problem to have."

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