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Lineup change needed

The South Carolina Gamecock Baseball team is in very good shape when it comes to being a National Seed. But when it comes to how they would do once the postseason begins, that’s a different story.

The pitching staff is outstanding. Three starting pitchers that would matchup with anyone in the country, 2 excellent closers, and 2 more solid arms in Reed Scott and Taylor Weidner. The defense also continues to be solid every single game.

But the hitting..oh the hitting. What has happened to this lineup. I witnessed first hand Tuesday night the Gamecock lineup again struggle with a pitching staff it should have dominated. This, following stranding 15 runners on base in Sunday’s loss to Kentucky, following being shut out Saturday night, following a very lack luster performance against USC Upstate last week.

Tuesday night, Chad Holbrook made another big lineup adjustment by sliding Marcus Mooney up from the 9 hole to the 2nd spot. Holbrook has yet to find a 2 hitter he can settle on… although TJ HOPKINS would have been a good choice a month ago. Multiple guys just don’t seem to be in their stride, too many big home run cuts, and I haven’t seen a good adjustment at the plate in a month.

But the biggest surprise is the decision to stay with John Jones. Let me try to take you into the mind of Holbrook and explain what he’s thinking. Holbrook says, and I agree, when USC is at its best, it’s when there is a true 3-4-5 in his lineup and they drive in runs almost every time through. I agree with this… in fact I agree with it so much, I went off on his lineup choices on Open Mic and on Twitter MULTIPLE times when he put his better RBI guys in the leadoff and 2nd spots in the order. He then had a bunch of single hitters in the 5-9 spots. After the Clemson series, Holbrook made the adjustments and USC had their most successful month under his tenure.

So let me make this very clear. I agree with the “idea” of your best RBI guys in the 3, 4, and 5 spots. One problem… John Jones is no longer one of your best RBI guys. I watched first hand Tuesday night a young man who was completely lost at the plate. Jones was late on 86 MPH fastballs, couldn’t hit slow curves, struggled from both sides of the plate, and even more to the point, his body language was of one who had no idea how to fix it. He was frustrated, confused, and pretty much everything you can picture a young man in a slump would be.

As confident, poised, and AWESOME as he was early in the season, he was the opposite Tuesday night and honestly, this has gone on long enough. Holbrook said after Tuesday’s win and 0-4 night from Jones, that he was “staying in his corner.” He made it very clear that Jones would stay in the lineup. He’s made it so clear, that he stayed with Jones right through TJ Hopkins hot streak that has since faded due to lack of at bats.

I give Holbrook credit for his confidence building approach. Players love that and not only does Jones see it, his teammates do as well and that can go a long way. Holbrook gets a lot of unfair criticism from fans… some fair though, but this is a part of Holbrook I really like.

However, I would have long sat Jones by now because I had a better lineup option in Hopkins and could have moved Bride into the 5 spot while Jones worked his way through it. I agree, Bride is a perfect 6 hole hitter, but for a while, Bride would have been absolutely an option for the 5 hole. As of this writing, Madison Stokes would be just fine in the 5 spot too. His .283 average is solid and he has some pop.

But if Holbrook is intent on keeping Jones in the lineup, I can NOT for the life of me figure why he is putting someone who is struggling so massively into the 5 spot. He said so himself..he needs RBI guys in the 3, 4, and 5 spots. Jones is currently not an RBI guy. He’s not even a singles hitter at this point. Holbrook needs to move him to the 8 spot in the order and let him work out of it. Again, I would not be starting him because I think he needs to clear his head a little bit, loosen up, and take a few days off.

Jones is no doubt one of the team’s best hitters when it comes to potential and we all saw what he can do when he’s hot. But to stick with him, and stick with him as a 5 hole hitter, makes absolutely no sense at all and contradicts what Holbrook wants to begin with.

This lineup needs a jolt, some new life, and it should be TJ Hopkins. I liked the move of Mooney batting 2nd; he’s hitting over .300 and the team needs him to hit near the top. I would also put Stokes 5th, Bride 6th, and Cullen 7th. That’s a lot of RBI guys in a row following Destino and DTW.

I will say this… even though the score was only 3-1 Tuesday night, Holbrook did call a couple of hit and runs that just didn’t work because of a pop up. Holbrook was aggressive on the bases, and bunted at the right times. I like his style once the games start more and more. But it’s the lineups that I just don’t get and that’s been, in my opinion, his biggest issue all year. He’s made a lot of really good moves, but this lineup needs a little shakeup.

For USC to reach its potential and reach the CWS, Jones needs to be hitting well. Doing nothing, leaving him in the 5 hole, and watching the same result over and over again, isn’t getting him any better. Something needs to change.

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