Coach Chad Holbrook told 107.5 The Game that Saturday starter Steven Neff has tendinitis in his shoulder and is likely to be out for this weekend’s Kentucky series. Neff will miss his second consecutive weekend including last weekend’s series win against Florida. Neff’s departure from the rotation creates more question marks. Although Michael Roth is entrenched as the Friday starter, the other two weekend starting positions are up for grabs. Forrest Koumas made a strong statement last weekend that he should fill one of those slots, but that still leaves an opening. There has been talk that All American closer Matt Price should move out of the bullpen and assume a starting role. There are good reasons to think that move would be a beneficial one and reasons he should stay where he is.
Reason #1 Matt Price should be a starter:
He’s (arguably) your best pitcher
Matt Price is arguably the best pitcher on the staff. He had a tremendous season last year and is off to a good start again this year. As your best pitcher, he should be on the mound as much as possible. In a weekend where South Carolina never holds a lead, Price might not come in at all. Even if the Gamecocks have a series where they win 3 close games, you’d only expect Price to go 3 or 4 innings, and 6 would be the absolute limit. If Price is starting, he can pitch up to 9 innings and could be counted on to get at least 5 each weekend. Starting Price maximizes the amount of innings he pitches against opponents.
Reason #2 Price should be a starter:
He is a right handed pitcher.
For the majority of the season South Carolina has marched three lefties to the mound on the weekend. Forrest Koumas is a notable exception, but so far that has only been for one weekend. Having a right handed starting pitcher would allow the Gamecocks to match up with teams better over the course of a weekend. It would force opponents to adjust rather than just fine tune their hitting against all left handers.
Reason #3 Price should be a starter:
Coming into last season, Coach Tanner expected John Taylor to be the closer. As the season progressed, it became clear that Taylor wasn’t off to the start many had hoped, and his role as the closer diminished. Things couldn’t be more different this year. John Taylor has started the year on fire. Taylor has made 14 appearances on the year, which leads the team, and has pitched 18 2/3 innings. Over that span he has an ERA of 0.48, and opponents are batting .103 against him. He has struck out 22 and walked 5. Those are closer numbers, and John Taylor is a viable option if Price is moved to a starting position.
Reason #1 Price should remain a closer.
Don’t ruin an All-American closer by changing his role.
Dominant closers don’t grow on trees, and if you are lucky enough to have one, you use him every chance you get. Ray Tanner knows this, which is why you see Price coming into games in the eighth and even seventh innings. I can think of few baseball tragedies worse than taking a great closer, asking him to be a starter and having that not work out. In baseball there are many things that you don’t mess with when they are working, and you don’t take one of your team’s greatest assets and try to turn it into something else.
Reason #2 Price should remain a closer.
The point has been made ad nauseum that the new bats are producing fewer runs than the bats made last year. The logical extension of that result is that there are closer games. In a close game relief pitching, especially closers, are incredibly important. If games are to remain one and two run affairs into the eighth and ninth innings, teams would be well advised to have one of their top arms available to pitch when the games are in the balance. This might be the reason Price is most valuable as a closer. He was great last year, but the game has changed in a way that makes him even more important in his role.
Reason #3 Price should remain a closer.
In Omaha, South Carolina was out of starting pitchers and called on Michael Roth to take the hill against Clemson. He performed superbly and is now the undisputed Friday starter. In Gainesville, Steven Neff was unable to pitch on Saturday, and Forrest Koumas stepped in. He pitched well and probably earned himself another start this weekend. Koumas stepped up when called upon and should only improve as his freshman season progresses. All that’s needed is one more weekend starter. That’s no reason to panic and move the closer to starter. If Steven Neff comes back or Colby Homles or Tyler Webb or someone else steps into a weekend starting role, then there is no problem. Besides, the third weekend starter changed a lot last year, and look how that turned out.