Chris Williams will start the season at first base

Tigers "itching to get there" as Opening Day approaches

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Opening Day. Those two words create excitement in the minds and hearts of baseball fans everywhere, and No. 12 Clemson opens the 2018 season Friday when it hosts William & Mary in the start of a three-game series.

Head coach Monte Lee met with the media Tuesday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, and he said he’s ready to see what his team can accomplish.

“I'm excited. Our guys since we have come back have put in an awful lot of work to get us to this point. We've had a lot of live at-bats,” Lee said. “We've played as much as we possibly could around the rain that we've had, but our guys have performed very well, especially on the pitching end. We're excited to get started. We're excited to play somebody else besides ourselves. We're excited about having a big crowd come out opening weekend. Hopefully, the weather cooperates with us and we're able to get three games in against a quality opponent in William & Mary. Just kind of itching to get there.”

Clemson hosted a regional for the second time in the second year of head coach of Lee’s tenure in 2017. But the top four starters, who combined to start 61 of the 63 games a year ago, have departed. That led to a fierce competition in camp, but Lee said sophomore Jacob Hennessy will start Friday, righty Brooks Crawford will start Saturday and lefty Jake Higginbotham will start Sunday.

Hennessy had a 3.82 ERA in 26 relief appearances as a freshman in 2017. He also allowed just 11 walks with 37 strikeouts.

“Those three guys will get the ball opening weekend. I'll be honest with you, we really struggled with these decisions because we had about six guys that pitched well enough to start,” Lee said. “We've had a hard time scoring. In the last six or seven intrasquads, we have had a hard time scoring runs and that's just a testament to Coach See and the pitching staff and how well they've thrown. There were a number of guys in the mix. We felt like this first weekend, these guys have experience and they've thrown well enough to deserve to start. We're excited about a number of guys and how they've been throwing the baseball.”

Hennessy, who hails from nearby Moore, said he will have plenty of friends and family in attendance Friday and he hopes to show off an improved changeup.

“I'm excited and ready to compete on Friday. I started my whole high school career,” Hennessy said. “Last year was my first year out of the bullpen, but I felt pretty comfortable there. I had a good offseason and worked on another pitch. I'm excited and ready to go.

“I worked on the changeup. I have a pretty good changeup but didn't throw it a lot last year out of the bullpen. I worked on and it got progressively better over the fall and now I feel like it's a plus pitch.”

News and notes

*A name we keep hearing is Spencer Strider. The hard-throwing righty is a candidate to make an impact in 2018. Strider, rated as the No. 28 freshman in the nation by Perfect Game, was drafted in the 35th round after a stellar career at Christian Academy of Knoxville. I was told he struck out 10 in just 4 1/3 innings in a recent scrimmage.

*Look for Grayson Byrd to start at third, Logan Davidson at short, Jordan Greene at second and Chris Williams (when healthy) to start at first with Kyle Wilkie at catcher. Friday’s outfield might be Robert Jolly in left, Drew Wharton in center and Seth Beer in right. It sounds like Beer will spend a majority of his time in the outfield.

*Bryce Teodosio will also see time in center – he’s a plus defender – with Wharton moving to left. Kier Meredith is still expected back in late April. Clemson’s optimal lineup – the one that would be the most effective from an offensive and defensive standpoint – would see Williams behind the plate and Meredith in center.

*Lee said the pitchers have been better than the hitters over the last few weeks. Had another observer tell me that runs have been hard to come by.

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