Clemson coach Jack Leggett cleared the air with South Carolina coach Ray Tanner this morning, in the wake of Tanner's fiery comments after the Gamecocks beat the Tigers on Tuesday night. In a teleconference with reporters this afternoon, Leggett said he had a rough night of sleep Tuesday night, prompting him to call Tanner in the morning. He said the two had a good 45-minute talk.
"I think we both feel kind of bad that the great efforts of both of our teams last night were overshadowed by some of the events surrounding the game," Leggett said. "I wanted to get past that and get to the point where we could both start playing baseball and start moving on with the rest of our schedule. Obviously we're not going to agree on everything, but that's the nature of the rivalry . . . We both apologized a little bit to each other for some of the things that happened on both sides, some of the things that were said."
Leggett dodged questions about whether or not warming bats was a legitimate practice. The Tigers were suspicious when South Carolina bats were warm to the touch on Sunday, prompting Leggett to speak with the umpires about Jackie Bradley Jr.'s bat after he hit a home run. The Gamecocks said they simply left their bats in the sun, and they try to keep the bats as warm as possible to fight vibrations.
"It's not about any one player," Leggett said. "I do not want Jackie Bradley Jr. to take this as us trying to discredit anything he's done. He's one of the greatest players I've faced in 34 years in coaching. I would not want him to think that this was about his bat or his trying to do something in the wrong way."
In other Clemson news, righthander Kevin Brady, who exited Sunday's game after four innings, will be sidelined for two weeks with a strained forearm.
Speaking of arm issues, Arizona State ace Brady Rodgers has missed the last two weeks with tightness in his arm, but coach Tim Esmay told DevilsDigest.com that the sophomore righty is on the mend, and he wanted to pitch this past Sunday.
"He didn't have an opportunity to throw off the mound last week, he was throwing flat ground," Esmay told the website. "He threw a preparation for a start bullpen (Monday) and he felt good. That sounds to me like it is getting better and better."
This week's mailbag question also deals with arm injuries:
Hey Aaron, Glad to see Tulane back in the top 25. Their pitching has clearly been fantastic. However, Randy LeBlanc and Robby Broach both were injured this weekend. Any news on what the extent of those injuries are? What are your thoughts on the Tulane vs. Wichita State series this weekend?
On Monday, Green Wave coach Rick Jones said he was "not encouraged" by LeBlanc's chances to return after he left Saturday's start in the fifth inning. Jones said LeBlanc "felt something go" in his elbow after throwing a changeup. Today, the Green Wave announced that LeBlanc has a torn ulnar collateral ligament that will require season-ending surgery. Team doctor Buddy Savoie will perform the surgery, which will sideline LeBlanc for six to nine months.
Certainly, this is a major blow for a Tulane team built around pitching and defense. LeBlanc, a freshman righthander, was already blossoming into a true ace for Tulane, going 0-0, 2.87 with 22 strikeouts and five walks through 16 innings. He ranked No. 7 on Baseball America's preseason list of the nation's top 50 prospects in the freshman class, and Jones said he was working at 92-93 mph with a "big-time changeup" before he got hurt. Jones said he had been planning to ease LeBlanc into the Friday starter role after he got his feet wet, similar to the way TCU used Matt Purke a year ago. And he said LeBlanc had the talent to make a a Purke-like impact.
Broach, a fourth-year junior righty, is another key member of Tulane's weekend rotation, though he lacks the overpowering, front-line stuff that LeBlanc has. He's an accomplished college pitcher, though, and he's gotten off to a good start, goign 1-0, 1.64. He missed his start this weekend with what has now been diagnosed as a muscle injury in his right forearm. Jones said it was like shin splints in his forearm; he said Broach had an injection Monday, and "we're keeping our fingers crossed he'll be able to pitch at least by next week."
Sophomore righthander Alex Byo filled in admirably for Broach on Sunday, working five shutout innings to pick up the win in the rubber game against Mississippi. Byo missed last season after having major back surgery, but he has returned strong. Jones said he spots his 86-87 mph fastball well and kept the Rebels out front with a very good 12-to-6 curveball and a nice changeup.
Byo will have to shoulder a bigger load now that Tulane's weekend rotation has been wracked by injuries. So will sophomore righty Kyle McKenzie, last year's top recruit. McKenzie struggled as a freshman, but Jones said his stuff has been really good this year, and "he's back to looking like the guy we signed."
The bullpen will also have to continue its strong play. Closer Nick Pepitone (2-0, 1.50 with six saves) is off to a stellar start, and his ability to pound the bottom of the strike zone with a filthy sinker makes him well suited for the BBCOR bats. Freshman righty Alex Facunudus teamed with Pepitone to shut out the Rebels for 6 1/3 innings over the final two games of the series this weekend. Jones said Facundus has taken off since dropping down to a sidearm slot.
Despite a 9-3 record, Tulane has just a plus-seven run differential this year, and it doesn't figure to be a powerful offensive team at any point this spring. But it should improve upon its .219 batting average so far, and that would take some pressure off the pitching staff, too.
"I've got to believe we're better than we've been offensively," Jones said. "We play well defensively and we can really pitch. But those two guys (Broach and LeBlanc) are a big part of that."
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