From closer to starter, Gamecocks' Matt Price ready to make the transition
COLUMBIA -- Matt Price's only start as a college pitcher couldn't have gone much worse. In a March 31, 2009, game at The Citadel, he allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings before breaking his throwing wrist on a fielding play.
Price missed the rest of the season, received a medical redshirt and spent the next two seasons as a dominant reliever and closer: 30 saves, a 2.05 ERA, 158 strikeouts and 39 walks. After an All-American 2011 season, the right-hander was picked in the sixth round of the baseball draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who wanted to make him a starter.
Instead of developing into that role in front of sparse crowds in the low minor leagues this spring, Price will do it at the highest level of college baseball. When Price decided to return to school, USC coach Ray Tanner moved one of his returning starters, Forrest Koumas, to the bullpen and put Price in the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
The Gamecocks know what they are getting from All-American No. 1 starter Michael Roth, who will start today's season opener against Virginia Military Institute at Carolina Stadium. A more uncertain storyline will begin to unfold Saturday, when Price makes his second collegiate start, and the first since that miserable day in Charleston almost three years ago.
"Can he be an outstanding starter?" Tanner said. "I think he can. We'll see how it works. If it's not a situation that is productive for us, we'll go back to the way we were. I like the idea that Matt Price possibly could pitch 115 innings versus the 55, 60 he threw last year. If it works, it was a good idea. If it doesn't, it was the assistant coach's idea."
Tanner made light of the situation because he feels confident that it will benefit his team. Price is one of his two best pitchers, and as long as he handles the mental adjustments of moving from closer to starter, and doesn't wear down once he gets well past the 59 innings he threw last year, he will have a chance to show off more of his repertoire than he did in 2010 or 2011.
"As closer, you've always got to have the mindset of coming in and not letting anybody on," Price said. "As a starter, you've kind of got to pace yourself and you can't let things get you awry. Like a base hit, you can't let it affect you."
Physically, he prepared for the transition by doing more running and leg-focused weightlifting in the fall. He spent the spring trying to once again master his curveball and changeup -- pitches he rarely used as a reliever. In that role, he relied mostly on his fastball and slider.
"It's been coming around good," he said.
"It's been getting close to where I need it to be. I'm kind of excited still to be throwing it again. I've thrown it before when I was closing, but not as much as I wanted to."
MATT PRICE'S CAREER STATS
2012 preseason scrimmages: 3 appearances, 3 starts, 2.70 ERA, 10 IP, 7 H, 8 K, 1 BB
2011: 7-3, 36 appearances, 0 starts, 1.83 ERA, 20 saves, 59 IP, 44 H, 75 K, 20 BB, .213 opposing BA
2010: 5-1, 31 appearances, 0 starts, 2.26 ERA, 10 saves, 55.2 IP, 37 H, 83 K, 19 BB, .183 opposing BA
*2009: 1-1, 7 appearances, 1 start, 4.05 ERA, 20 IP, 16 H, 15 K, 10 BB, .229 opposing BA
*Ended up redshirting after breaking his wrist in his only start