A call to Arms

Clemson pitcher Casey Harman is 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 3.98 ERA. He is expected to start the Tigers' ACC tournament opener against N.C. State. on Wednesday night.

As heart rates increase in the postseason, so does the stress on pitching staffs, testing their depth.

While that might seem troubling for Clemson considering its ERA (4.63) is a full run higher than last June (3.68) when the Tigers advanced to the Tempe Super Regional, Clemson's pitching staff is as deep as it has been all season.

"I think we are pitching much better, we are starting to understand what everyone can do," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "We have a much better feel."

If the Tigers are to host and advance beyond regional play, the staff's depth will have played a significant role.

Forty wins is considered a hosting benchmark, meaning Clemson (37-19) and its arms need a strong showing at the ACC tournament this week. The Tigers open against N.C. State at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C.

Though 40 wins does not guarantee a host bid, especially since in-state rivals South Carolina and Coastal Carolina appear ahead of Clemson on the hosting pecking order, Clemson is ranked again in the Baseball America poll (25th) and is ranked 15th in RPI and 12th in strength of schedule.

Casey Harman -- 12th in the ACC in ERA (3.98) -- and Scott Weismann -- who has improved his mechanics adding velocity and movement -- are set as the team's No. 1 and No. 2 starters. What

remains unclear is the team's pitching plan after the top two starters, though that's not due to a lack of arms, rather, a new-found surplus.

Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli said freshmen Dominic Leone, Scott Firth and sophomore Will Lamb are in the mix for starting assignments in the third game and a fourth game if necessary.

Pepicelli seemed most excited about the prospect of the left-handed Lamb returning to the rotation, a candidate to start the third game. Pepicelli said Lamb, who has a 5.31 ERA and 20/ 20, strikeout-to-walk ratio, has had a series of outstanding bullpen sessions, improving the angle and velocity of his fastball.

It's apparent why Pepicelli likes Lamb's upside. On a staff comprised mostly of undersized hurlers, the 6-5 Lamb has the angular build pitching coaches and scouts love. His fastball might be the best on the team.

"He's back throwing the ball down in the strike zone," Pepicelli said. "The last pen I watched him he looked like a guy who, to me, is ready to do something special. I think he can make a start in this tournament.

"When he's on, he beat Virginia (7IP, ER on March 26). He's beat some top teams."

Lamb has not started a game since April 18 against Georgia Tech.

"When Richie (Shaffer) got hurt, instead of going with the pitchers everyday I was on the front field doing defensive stuff, doing (defensive drills at first base)," said Lamb, who doubles as a first baseman. "I never got to work on my slider, or (balance), all this other stuff. It took away from all that, and I took a step back with my pitching."

Along with Lamb, Firth is also improving.

The freshman has won back-to-back midweek games. His velocity is up in the low 90s, and he has struck out 23 batters in 26 innings.

Leone, a fellow freshman, strung together several quality starts in the middle part of the season to replace Lamb in the rotation, though he's struggled in his last several appearances. He is still in the starting mix.

After the third and fourth starters, the other major pitching question is the arrangement of the bullpen.

Tomas Cruz earned his team-best third save against Florida State on Thursday and, despite his lack of strikeout stuff, will be called on to close, according to Pepicelli. Providing the bridge from the starters to Cruz will be Alex Frederick, David Haselden and Kevin Brady.

"I really admire the way the team has hung in there," Leggett said. "Hopefully, we are on the way up."

Honor roll

Kyle Parker was named as a first-team All-ACC performer Monday. Jeff Schaus and Mike Freeman made the second team. Parker is tied for second in the ACC with 18 homers.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks