South Carolina continued preseason practice on Friday as the back-to-back national champions returned to the field. GamecockCentral.com's David Cloninger was there to offer some scrimmage impressions.
The Gamecocks will scrimmage at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, leading to the Feb. 17 season-opener.
Visitor -- CF Tanner English, 2B Ahmad Christian, SS Connor Bright, C Grayson Greiner, 3B Erik Payne, LF Sean Sullivan, 1B Brison Celek, RF Jake Williams, DH Tanner Lovick, EH Seth Constable, P Patrick Sullivan
Home -- CF Evan Marzilli, RF Adam Matthews, 1B Christian Walker, 3B LB Dantzler, DH Kyle Martin, SS Joey Pankake, C Dante Rosenberg, 2B Chase Vergason, LF TJ Costen, P Michael Roth
The Home team won 3-0 on the strength of five shutout innings from Michael Roth.
Roth has had two strong appearances in a row after opening with a rough one during the initial weekend. It's the same story - Roth sets them up and sits them down. Nothing blowing-away about his stuff, but he knows where to put it and what to get them to swing at. Ironically, the one hitter he had trouble with was the one who has struggled to hit in the fall and the spring -- English. He walked in the day's first appearance and drilled a stand-up double to the left-field wall in his second. Roth stranded him at third base each time by battling through the meat of the order, and ended with four strikeouts to just three hits. He also didn't mind going five innings on a cold, overcast day, despite knowing his spot is assured. There is no taking-off, which is exactly what you want from a senior captain who's also a preseason All-American.
Christian continues to impress, and I have to wonder if it will be enough for him to earn a spot on the 34-man roster. I still don't think that's a big possibility, but he's doing no wrong these days. He reached twice, on a walk and an error (that was ruled a hit by the official scorer), but the highlight was his defense. Knowing he'll have to separate himself from the established players at second base, Christian did just that.
First he ran into foul territory and caught a ball just before he hit the rail and tumbled into the seats. Then he scooped up a hot grounder on a hit-and-run, and elected to try for the quick throw to second instead of the sure out; it turned into a double play. The main drawback to Christian potentially making the team was that he had yet to hit in a game and was behind Chase Vergason, TJ Costen and Connor Bright at second, but plays like those were eye-opening.
I just can't see Ray Tanner, a big believer in rewarding those with veteran experience, putting Christian on the team over somebody else who's been there through fall. But Christian certainly isn't hurting himself. He also stole a base.
After holding a clinic on catching base-stealers on Sunday, neither Dante Rosenberg nor Grayson Greiner did much in that category on Friday. There were four in four attempts. The first two were just bad throws - in time, but off-target, and the last two were late. It comes and goes, I suppose, on days like Friday, and both have been so good throughout the fall and spring that it's easy to peg it as just one of those days.
Tyler Webb looked very strong, which is good to see. Webb has clearly always had the stuff - that's why he's been a weekend pitcher at the beginning of his two previous seasons. His problem has been his mentality - Webb hasn't been able to hold on to the spots because he's so inconsistent during the year. Tanner mentioned him as a potential closer candidate with Forrest Koumas this year, but mostly, I'd expect Webb to challenge for the midweek role or middle relief. He looked good on Friday, striking out three in three innings with just one hit allowed, but the book on him, as everybody, will be discovered once the lights are on. Perhaps being a veteran with several freshmen pushing him for innings will keep the practices going into the games.
Drake Thomason had some rough spots but got out with no runs scored. He's a quick worker, demanding the ball back as soon as it's thrown, and is still trying to get his velocity back to what it was before Tommy John surgery. No question that Thomason has busted his tail to get back on the field - many was the night that I'd be typing my game story in the pressbox while he was running laps on the field. He just has to remain consistent if he gets in the games this year, but if he doesn't at first, keep in mind that he hasn't faced real competition in over a year. He's still a freshman in terms of playing experience.
A day ruled by the pitchers, but Walker and English doubled, Vergason had two singles and Payne knocked a triple. Payne's hit was a great piece of hitting, as he worked Thomason to a full count and sat on a fastball. He dropped it inside the right-field line on the bounce and it rolled to the corner. Payne never hesitated and took third with room to spare. As a backup third baseman, Payne knows his chances for playing time are slim, which is why he's learning to catch as well, but if he keeps hitting like this, perhaps he gets a look at designated hitter. I think Kyle Martin is definitely a contender for everyday DH, but he is a lefty; Payne and Jake Williams are righties.
Roth - 5IP, 3H, BB, WP, 4K
Thomason - 2IP, H, BB, HBP, K
Munson - 2IP, 2K
P. Sullivan - 3IP, 2H, 2R, 2WP, 2BB, 2K
Webb - 3IP, H, 3K
Privette - 2IP, 4H, R, 2K
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