Who: Greenville Drive vs. Charleston RiverDogs
Affiliation: Hickory — Boston Red Sox; Charleston — New York Yankees
Games: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.; Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.; Thursday, 6:05 p.m.
Radio: WTMZ 910-AM
While the rest of his South Carolina teammates mourned the end of their baseball season without a fourth consecutive trip to the College World Series, pitcher Tyler Webb barely had time to pack.
While maybe not as well-known as former teammates Michael Roth or Matt Price, few pitchers were as effective as Webb during the Gamecocks’ historic four-year run. He made 20 saves over his final two seasons and finished his career with a 2.34 ERA.
When the Gamecocks were finally eliminated by North Carolina last month in an NCAA super regional, Webb, a 10th-round pick of the New York Yankees, had little time to reflect on the 2013 season or his college career.
That will have to come later.
“I enjoyed every minute I played at South Carolina,” Webb said. “The season didn’t end like everyone hoped. To be that close to getting back to the World Series and come up a game short was tough, but I’ve got nothing to complain about.”
Webb, who appeared in more games (110) than any pitcher in South Carolina history, had just two days to pack up his belongings in Columbia and head to Staten Island, the home of the Yankees’ short season rookie team. Webb still has most of his stuff in Columbia. Despite getting called up to the Charleston RiverDogs two weeks ago, he hasn’t had enough time to return to Columbia and get the rest of his things.
“I’m hoping I get a day here pretty soon when I can get up to Columbia and grab some of my things and bring them back down here,” Webb said. “You don’t get many days off in the minors. You don’t get much free time, but it’s only a couple hours away and I’m hoping to get up to Columbia and get some clothes and see some friends.”
The 6-6, 225-pound lefthander was assigned to Staten Island two days after the Gamecocks’ season ended but spent just two weeks in the short season rookie league. Webb appeared in four games, recording a save and striking out eight batters in five innings and did not allow a run.
“I kind of expected to go to Staten Island, so it wasn’t like I was disappointed to be assigned there,” Webb said. “The New York-Penn league usually has some of the best college hitters in it, so it was a lot like playing in the SEC or the College World Series.”
The Nassawadox, Va., native has quickly discovered that the biggest difference in facing a professional roster is a much deeper lineup. While college teams will have good hitters in the top of the order, every batter at the professional level is a capable hitter.
“One through five is probably a lot like the SEC. There’s not a huge difference,” Webb said. “The biggest difference is one through nine. There are no easy outs at this level. It’s definitely better. There’s no decline through the lineup. You make a mistake, and you’ll pay for it.”
Webb was prepared to spend the summer in the suburbs of New York City and admitted he was surprised when he got the call to move up to the RiverDogs.
“I didn’t expect to be in South Carolina again so quickly,” Webb said. “I’m glad to be back. Obviously, I’m a little more familiar with this area and this ballpark.”
Playing for the Gamecocks, Webb figures he must have pitched at Riley Park almost a half-dozen times during his career.
“I feel very comfortable pitching here,” Webb said. “We played here at least once a year, and one year we played here twice. Living in Columbia for four years I definitely consider South Carolina my second home.”
Webb’s transition to professional baseball this summer has been made easier with the help of one of his old college roommates — first baseman Brison Celek, who played at Bishop England High School. Instead of staying in an apartment with teammates he doesn’t know, Webb is living with Celek’s family locally.
“That’s been great,” Webb said. “You get a couple of home-cooked meals, and Brison and I have been roommates before. I’m really glad they live here in Charleston.”
Webb has appeared in just two games since joining the RiverDogs. In three innings, he has giving up five hits and one earned run while striking out five batters.
“I’m excited to get back out there and throw in meaningful games again,” Webb said. “The results haven’t been like I’d hoped, but it’s a learning process and I know that.”
Webb’s sample size isn’t big enough for RiverDogs coach Danny Borrell to make any judgments on Webb. So far, Borrell has been impressed with Webb’s work ethic and willingness to learn.
“It’s impossible to evaluate Tyler after only a couple of appearances,” Borrell said. “He seems like a very polished kid. He came from a big program that had a lot of success. He’s a big kid, with a good fastball and change-up. His slider is what’s going to need some work.”
A dominant closer for the Gamecocks his senior season — Webb had 17 saves in 2013 — the hard-throwing left-hander isn’t sure what his role will be with the Yankees. Webb will be a valuable situational pitcher against left-handed hitters, but Borrell thinks he’s good enough to be used in all situations.
“Someone above my pay grade will make that decision,” Borrell said. “He could be a set-up guy or a closer. I think that’ll be determined as his career gets going.”