CLEMSON — – Last June, it appeared Scott Weismann had turned a corner.
Clemson’s sophomore righty starter put together three strong starts in the NCAA Tournament, beating Southern Miss, Alabama and Oklahoma while fueling the Tigers’ run to the College World Series semifinals.
When No.1 starter Casey Harman signed a pro contract with the Chicago Cubs, everyone assumed Weismann would take his place at the top of the weekend rotation.
ACC hitters had other plans. Despite starting the season 2-0, the junior fell well short of expectations as Clemson’s Friday-night starter. In eight starts, he was 2-4 with a 6.92 ERA, failing to last seven innings in any outing.
Since moving to the bullpen in mid-April, Weismann has found his true home.
He has allowed only two runs in 14 appearances covering 15 2/3 innings, and both of those came in his first relief appearance against Maryland; he’s allowed just four hits in his last 13 outings.
With seven saves, he is firmly ensconced as the Tigers’ closer as they begin NCAA Tournament play with this weekend’s Clemson Regional.
“Weismann’s an awesome pitcher,” said junior third baseman John Hinson. “He’s been sharp. To see him running across the field, it’s exciting. You know he’s going to throw as hard as he can every pitch, and really believe in every pitch.
“As a closer, we’re so confident in him. He’s done a great job for us.”
Weismann can’t quite explain why starting didn’t work for him, but it clearly didn’t. In his last three ACC starts, he allowed four, five and six runs to Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina, and didn’t get out of the fifth inning in any of them.
Following a four-inning, six-run effort at North Carolina, coaches approached him about transitioning to the bullpen, and he quickly agreed; he compiled a 1.23 ERA as a freshman, mostly in relief.
“I was all about it, because I’ve done it before,” he said.
Becoming a closer has allowed Weismann to focus his mental energy and his pitches, too.
“A little bit mentally, I wasn’t prepared to go six, seven innings every game,” he said. “My arm wasn’t working out of a starting role. Since becoming a closer everything’s jumped up a little bit. I’m throwing a little harder, the slider’s a little sharper, the offspeed’s better.”
Clemson coach Jack Leggett says Weismann comes to the park “on edge, ready to pitch.”
His routine is far different. As a starter, he knew he was pitching Friday night and no other time. Now, Weismann goes down to the bullpen around the fifth or sixth inning and starts getting loose in the eighth, just in case.
“As a closer you’ve got to stay in every game,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities so far. It feels like I’ve been going in every other game (indeed, 14 appearances in 29 games). It’s good to get in as many games as you can.”
Weismann says he still uses all of his pitches, but leans more on his fastball while mixing in some breaking stuff.
With only one inning, two max to throw them in, he says they’ve got extra punch.
“Maybe not even velocity so much, but my ball’s got better life,” he said. “It was just flatter starting this year. Now it’s got more movement on it, which is huge. Maybe it’s not even velocity, but the movement has been a big thing.”
In a lot of ways, he has a John Daly mentality: Grip it and rip it.
“I’m not thinking about anything,” he said. “Just go out there and throw it as hard as I can. It’s a good feeling – you’re not worrying about anything, just letting it fly. You’ve got to command it, but not even worry about it so much.”
And now, Clemson isn’t worrying about the ninth inning.
“It’s been a good move for him,” Leggett said. “He feels really comfortable in that position as the closer. He gives us his effort in a short period of time, and I think he likes it.”