Granted, sophomore right-hander Curt Britt has made just two appearances through South Carolina's first four games of the 2014 season, but so far he looks like a totally different pitcher than a year ago.
As a freshman, Britt, one of the more heralded members of USC's 2012-2013 signing class, struggled to gain traction following a solid start. He allowed seven hits and three runs in his first 11.1 career innings pitched spread out over five appearances.
However, he struggled on back-to-back weekends against SEC opponents on the road, yielding five runs on eight hits in 3.0 innings against Tennessee and Florida, and made just one appearance on the mound after April 13.
However, as long as he builds on the way he has pitched in the early going this season, Britt could be called upon deep into May and June when every game becomes critically important.
Three days after blanking Bucknell in a 2.1 inning relief stint, Britt returned to the mound Tuesday and limited Presbyterian to five hits and no runs while striking out three and walking two in a career-long 5.1 inning scoreless stint.
Forty-eight of his 70 pitches were strikes - a strike percentage of 68.5 percent - as he wiggled out of multiple jams in USC's hard-fought 4-0 victory.
"My velocity wasn't that great, but I kept them off-balance with changeups and sliders," Britt said. "I went through a stretch with back-t-back walks (in the top of the second), but luckily I got out of it. I just have to do a better job of just competing each inning and focusing. Sometimes I get too lackadaisical. In the long run, if I stay focused from the first out, I don't have to worry about jams I can avoid pretty easily."
How impressive was Britt? Reliever Josh Reagan virtually apologized for "snaking" his first career win away from Britt, who was 2-0 with a 5.12 ERA in 19.1 IP last season.
With two appearances and 7.2 innings in the books, Britt has allowed no runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and three walks. Opponents are batting .250 against him. But he has yet to allow an extra-base hit.
REAGAN WAS PRESIDENTIAL: Freshman lefthander Josh Reagan earned a prominent role out of the bullpen by pitching solidly in the fall and following up with a series of strong scrimmage outings during preseason camp. One thing Reagan, who helped lead Lexington to the 2013 Class AAAA state championship by throwing a three-hitter in the final game, is throw strikes.
In two appearances, Reagan has thrown 37 total pitches, 28 for strikes. That's an eye-opening strike/ball percentage of 75.7 percent. Difficult for any pitcher, let alone a newcomer to the major college scene, topping that figure.
"The only way I'm effective is if I go in and out and throw strikes and throw my changeup effectively," Reagan said after Tuesday's victory. "That's what I did and it worked."
Reagan is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 3.0 innings pitched. He has three strikeouts and no walks (a product of his impressive control).
JUCO transfer Cody Mincey recorded the final four outs but was not credited with a save because USC held a 4-0 lead when he entered the game with two outs in the top of the eighth. He needed just 16 pitches to polish off the Blue Hose.
Holbrook asserted Reagan and Mincey both passed their first true tests as Gamecock hurlers.
"Josh Reagan and Cody Mincey were special finishing it off," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "It was really good to see Josh and Cody pitch the way they pitched with the game on the line. We hadn't seen that yet in a tight spot.
"We thought we knew who they are, but you never really know until the lights are one and there are seven or eight thousand people in the stands. This was their first opportunity in a an environment where the game could go either way. It was good to see."
-- After putting together its third errorless outing in four games, USC improved its team fielding percentage to an impressive .993 (1 error in 143 chances). At this rate, the Gamecocks would commit a lowly 14 errors during the 56-game regular season. "When you pitch and play defense, you have a chance," Holbrook said.
-- After four games, Kyle Martin is batting .692 (9-for-13) with one homer and seven RBI. Connor Bright paces the offense with eight RBI while batting .467 (7-for-15). "He (Martin) has hit since we came back in August," Holbrook said. "He hasn't stopped. I hope he doesn't. That fact he knows he's going to be in the lineup every day gives him a sense of calm. He also has some confidence. He has some strength and we have a good park for him to play in. The ball travels to right field. He can put up good numbers here."
-- USC hitters are displaying remarkable patience at the plate. Seven walks on Tuesday raised its season total to 28 in four games, an average of 7.0 per game.
-- Holbrook said he didn't mind Tuesday's contest was a close affair all the way through (USC lead 1-0 entering the late innings) since the Gamecocks must learn to persevere through challenging games. "We need to play in some competitive environments to see who we are," Holbrook said. "We're still learning who we are because we have some new guys to put in some tight situations. We need to see how they react."
-- Holbrook said he apologized to Brison Celek for not utilizing him as the DH in Tuesday's game. Instead, Holbrook employed D.C. Arendas as he DH, but the sophomore from Greensboro, NC went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. "I played a hunch and my hunch wasn't right," Holbrook said. "I wanted to play 10 guys today and I left a guy out. I wasn't right doing that and I told him that."