Like any public figure, I'd like to begin with an apology that's not really an apology:
This Friday, the lady friend defended her dissertation (yes, she killed the snake). Much like the man in the birthing room, my role was to remind her to breathe as she is breaking my fingers, screaming, and blaming me for everything in a room filled with doctors who are pretty much doing nothing but waiting for the thing to pop out and start crying. In the end, they slapped the dissertation on the ass and left us with a crippling bill. I didn't videotape it, though, as that is gross.
As such (and, you know, my hundreds of essays and tests to grade), I wasn't able to write anything for you fine people. As an apology, you'll get two columns this week.
I'm going to open this column with a look in the Wayback Machine. If you're not one for reminiscing, scroll down to when...
Words Are As Big As This Again
In the preseason guide, I told you all you needed to know about our pitching staff. Just like that time I baked that birthday cake for my God Daughter, I pretty much nailed it.
For the TL;DR crowd, I got the easy ones (Fulmer and Buehler), but I did say Tyler "Turd" Ferguson had a "Million Dollar Arm" (in fairness, he still does), and this about our potential Sunday starter:
Bat Poison (John Kilichowski) is going to start this Saturday (though Corbs might change his mind) while Buehler is on the mend, touring around Chicago with his girlfriend, Sloan, and epic killjoy, Cameron. K-Chow went 0-0 with an 1.57 ERA in 23 IP last year working as the primary lefty option out of the pen. This year, he'll battle Philip Pfeifer, Jordan Sheffield, Tyler Ferguson and a slew of freshmen for the 3rd and 4th spots in the rotation. In other words, we have 6 legitimate SEC starters, and our #s 4-6 will be better than the majority of SEC rotations this year.
In other words, I said the sooth regarding the uncertainty surrounding our #3 starter, but was perhaps a bit optimistic about them all being legitimate options only held back by opportunity. In short, every single one of them has had an opportunity to lock down a rotation slot, and not a one of them has emphatically done it (or been consistent in this endeavor).
In the opening weekend series against Santa Clara, Fulmer was Fulmer, but the rest? I'll let past me say it:
Tyler Ferguson and John Kilichowski's inability to find the strike zone. The Turd walked 5 in 2 IP before being yanked. Sure, he only allowed one hit, but they don't need to hit you if you keep putting them on for free. K-Chow wasn't as bad as Ferguson, and was largely being squeezed by the ump, but he walked 3 and gave up 5 hits and 4 runs in 3 and 2/3 innings of pretty pedestrian pitching.
The Turd got one more putrid start before being relegated to the pen (though, in fairness, he does look to be starting to put it together again, and just may be someone we'll need to contribute in the postseason). K-Chow has started 9 games and has been pretty mediocre. At the moment, he's looking more like a long-relief option or lefty specialist on this team.
Then, Ryan Johnson started to see some mid-week action, and we held hands and listened to "Endless Love" in the dark:
Freshman LHP Ryan Johnson, however, looked practically Tom Glavin-esque in relief Wednesday night. Though he barely gets his fastball over 80 MPH, Johnson has a pitcher's mind, and was baffling all comers. He pitched with movement and precision to 5 perfect innings. 15 up, 15 down. Oh, and he struck out 9 in the process. I know it was only Quinnipiac, but color me impressed. With K-Chow needing to up his dosage of bat poison, Sheffield pitching effectively wild through much needed mid-week innings, and Philip Pfeifer serving as the man who knocks down what Carson Fulmer has set up, perhaps the crafty lefty is the answer. For the MPH hounds out there, this might confuse you, but for those who appreciate an on mound chess battle, Johnson's your guy. South Carolina won two titles in a row with precisely this type of pitcher. We can, too.
I'm saying it now: By the end of the year, Ryan Johnson will serve as the change of pace tactician to Fulmer and Buehler's flames. He's my new pick for Sunday starter.
That lasted for all of three days, and I went full man-crush on Jordan Sheffield, claiming he had officially ended the debate for Sunday starter:
While I am still extremely high on Johnson, as he's a pitcher's pitcher - and think he should be our midweek starter this year and will be in the starting three next year (Saturday or Sunday) - Sheffield just wrote his name into the Sunday slot in pen.
Oh March 19th... were we ever that young?
Of course, all the while, I was not so secretly pining for Pfeifer. In my Feb 20th preview of the Indiana State Series, I wrote:
It would appear that the Turd's horrid performance against Santa Clara has knocked him out of his Sunday slot. May I suggest Philip Pfeifer? I may. Let's give his slot to Pfeifer.
What does all of this mean? Practically nothing, but...
Words Are Big Again And You Assholes Can Stop Scrolling
This weekend, in an effort to "not just win the Carson Fulmer starts," Coach Corbin decided to play a little chess with Miznoz Coach Tim "Otter"
The week prior, USC Coach Hal Holbrook stopped impersonating Mark Twain long enough to throw a little gamesmanship our way. With his Friday starter Wil "Dewey" Crowe out for the year with an elbow injury, good ol' Samuel Langhorne Clemens decided to punt on the first game and start his de facto ace Jack Wynkoop on day two. In effect, this was admitting they can't beat Fulmer, so why not try to put their ace against Buehler and their #2 starter against our #3 starter (TBA)?
As coaches are likely to try what had quite recently worked for other teams, Miznoz's Jamieson decided to employ the same strategy, and shifted ace Tanner Houck to Saturday and their 2nd best pitcher, Peter Fairbanks (and his 2.48 ERA) to Sunday.
Corbs countered by moving Buehler to Sunday and giving Philip Pfeifer his first start since '13 on Saturday. The results? On Friday, Fulmer was Fulmer (9-2 win). On Saturday, Pfeifer went 7 strong innings, giving up 2 runs and striking out 13 in a 12-2 series clinching win. On Sunday, Buehler did pretty much exactly what Pfeifer did (7 innings, 2 runs, 9 Ks), but the bats held off until the 8th inning before waking up. In other words, Miznoz brought a knife to a gunfight while playing checkers in a chess game and we got the sweep.
Will This Strategy Continue To Work Going Forward?
How the hell should I know? But here's why it can:
If you'll scroll back up and click on all the links provided (and maybe even read everything else I've written on the matter this year) you'll know the primary reason Pfeifer was in the pen instead of starting was he was pitching the last 3 innings of pretty much all Fulmer starts early in the year. With Hayden Stone shaking hands with Tommy John, and Carson Fulmer only able to pitch around 6 innings per game, Pfeifer was needed to slam shut what Fulmer opens each Friday. In his last three starts, Fulmer has either gone the distance or shown he could go the distance if needed. Further, with Jordan Sheffield proving much more effective in short bursts than long distance runs, we've got a man who can hit triple digits in the back of our bullpen. With Sheffield showing the capability to weld shut that hole in the back of our bullpen, Corbs can now stop worrying and move Pfeifer to the rotation, where he'll be most effective.
In short, we still have enviable rotation depth, with Ryan Johnson, Kyle Wright, and K-Chow still able to start if we need them, but with Fulmer and Buehler's arms stretched out and able to go deep into games, Sheffield able to reprise Carson Fulmer's freshman year role of "guy you don't want to see jog out of the bullpen," and Ben Bowden performing well as a lefty set-up man, there's no reason not to start Pfeifer now. Finally, it can't hurt to split our two power RHPs with a power lefty like Pfeifer, either.
Of course, watch Corbs announce that Aubrey McCarthy will switch pitch his way through all three starts this weekend against Kentucky.
*He won't do that.