RiverDogs call up former USC star Widener

Former South Carolina pitcher Taylor Widener will make his RiverDogs debut Monday. The Yankees called him up to Charleston on Saturday.

A year ago, Taylor Widener was a sophomore in South Carolina’s bullpen — still a year removed from MLB draft eligibility — when thoughts of a pro baseball career crept into his mind.

Twenty years old at the time, he reached out to a former teammate, Brison Celek, who played first base for the Gamecocks until 2014 and has since returned to work in Charleston, where he was raised.

“Next year,” Widener told Celek at the time, “when I get drafted by the Yankees, I’m going to come live with you.”

“All right,” Celek told him.

“Come on.”

As fate had it, the duo’s imaginary plans became a reality Saturday night.

Indeed, the Yankees did sign Widener a year later. They selected him in the 12th round of this year’s MLB draft, taking him with the 368th overall pick in June.

Indeed, he did get promoted to Low-A Charleston — the RiverDogs announced it Saturday afternoon.

And indeed, he will live with Celek. He moved in Saturday night, after his parents dropped off his pickup truck from Aiken.

“It worked out perfectly,” Widener grinned.

Widener, an Aiken native, comes to Charleston by way of Staten Island, the home of the Yankees’ short-season affiliate. In Staten Island, Widener appeared in six games, including one start, with a perfect 0.00 ERA dating back to his June debut.

In 151/3 innings, the right-hander notched 25 strikeouts and relinquished just two hits, while batters hit a measly .043 against him.

“It’s definitely been an exciting few days. I didn’t think I was going to be coming up (to Charleston) this year just because of what I’ve been told about my pitch count and everything,” Widener said Saturday afternoon at Riley Park.

He is scheduled to make his debut in relief Monday, when the RiverDogs hit the road for an away game with Kannapolis.

“Then, coach (Dave Bialas) called me into his office Thursday and told me that I was flying out Friday morning to go to Charleston. I got about two hours of sleep the other night.”

Widener brings even more reinforcement to an already dominant RiverDogs pitching staff, who led the league in ERA, shutouts and strikeouts as of Saturday afternoon.

Widener throws four pitches for strikes — a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball — and is thrilled to take the next step of his career closer to his Aiken home.

The last time the 21-year-old competed in the Palmetto State was just a few months ago with the Gamecocks, whose College World Series dreams came to an end in June after Oklahoma State beat them in the super regionals.

Now, Widener is ready to move on.

“It’s been a lot these past few months. It stunk that we lost in the super regionals, but then it’s nice that I get to start my professional career,” he said.

“It’s like starting all over again. I’ve got a clean slate. Just gotta keep coming out here and working hard.”

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