While much of the preseason attention given to the pitching staff of the Clemson baseball team has appropriately focused on junior right-hander and Friday starter Daniel Gossett, Coach Jack Leggett has plenty of options when it comes to filling out the picture of the Tigers’ weekend rotation.
“After Daniel, Matthew Crownover is certainly a possibility, and then we’ve got Zack Erwin and Jake Long,” said Leggett. “Clate Schmidt has been pitching well for us in the fall, so we’ve got a number of guys to choose from, and we’ve got some pretty good guys at the back end of the bullpen, so I’m excited about what we have for depth. Dan Pepicelli does a great job with our pitching staff, and they’re in great shape and will be tuned-up and ready to do their thing.”
While the role of Gossett - who was a 10-game winner last year, and is a preseason All-American – is all but assured, his most likely complements are Crownover and Erwin, a pair of lefty sophomores from the talent-rich Atlanta area who both had successful debuts as freshmen.
Coming off of “Tommy John” surgery, Crownover still managed to shine and was named a 2013 Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Broken-in as a midweek starter, he graduated into the weekend rotation midway through the season and finished with a 7-3 record in 15 appearances and 14 starts. His 2.19 ERA led the team, and he was the first Tiger freshmen to accomplish that since 2003.
Also, he was 3-2 in ACC regular-season games, and in those contests his 1.73 ERA in seven starts and 36.1 innings pitched was best in the conference. Known more for his control than his velocity, he also brought some intangible team-centric qualities to the table and won the Tiger Baseball Award, which honors the team’s best leader.
Erwin, meanwhile, was, likewise, a significant contributor on the mound as a freshman. A reliever for most of the season, he broke into the weekend rotation in May, and finished the year at 5-2, with a pair of saves and a 3.45 ERA. He notched 32 strikeouts and did not allow more than three earned runs in any of his 22 appearances. In 11 ACC regular-season games, he was 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA and held his opponents to a .243 batting average.
Catcher Garrett Boulware, who says he’s fine-tuned his rapport with the entire pitching staff, described the improvements he’s seen in both Crownover and Erwin as they’ve matured into second-year players.
“I absolutely see a difference in both of those guys,” said Boulware. “Crown, I think, was nine months out of Tommy John, and was throwing like eighty-three to eighty-five, and still had eight wins last year. This year, he’ll have most of his stuff, and will have the experience of one year under his belt, as well as his arm back.
“He could really do something crazy this year. I mean, he’s a really talented pitcher, and he’s a really smart pitcher. For him to get eight wins and throw eighty-three or eighty-four last year and get eight wins in this conference, then you’ve got to know how to pitch to certain hitters, and stuff like that. I think if he keeps that same approach and adds some of the junk that he has, he could be a pretty good pitcher.
“And it’s not even that he’s throwing significantly harder. It’s that his stuff has more action. And Zack Erwin, as well. He’s bigger, and has gained weight. He’s a skinny kid, but he’s put some weight on, and the ball comes out of his hand effortlessly and it just jumps. He just has really good stuff, and I think both are going to be a huge part of our pitching staff this year.”