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Jan. 29, 2010

Coach Tanner

South Carolina baseball coach Ray Tanner met with the media on Friday at Carolina Stadium to discuss the start of official practice for the 2010 baseball season.

Opening Statement:
I’m excited to be here for the official start of the 2010 season. I know that last year when I was in this position, there was some anxiety based on the experience factor that we had on the field. The expectations aren’t any different from year to year, but there’s a lot more experience on the field right now than there was a year ago. We’re excited about that. What does that mean? We hope it means better play, better players, and more wins. That remains to be seen, but there certainly is some security with the experience factor going forward.

On Nick Ebert:
The Nick Ebert situation is ongoing. Obviously we’d like for it to be resolved as soon as possible, but there is no date, there is no deadline. I have no idea when it will be resolved, one way or the other. I would tell you that it’s unlikely that he will be available opening day, but it’s not definite. It’s just unlikely.

On the progress made by Bobby Haney, Adam Matthews and Sam Dyson in recovering from injuries:
Knock on wood, I think they’re going pretty well. I’ve been keeping a close eye on Bobby, he’s excited, he seems to be throwing the ball well. Matthews seems to be running well. Robert Beary was hurt as well, he seems to be doing great. Sam Dyson, I think, is OK. I’m probably more cautious with him than anybody. We want him to be available at the end of the year, so we’re trying to hold him back right now. He’s thrown a few bullpens; he’s likely to be available the opening weekend, but we will probably have him on a shorter leash.

On Christian Walker at third base:
We had a simulation yesterday. It was a live situation, he was working on hitting the ball to the right side with a man at second and no outs. He homered. So he’s doing pretty well with a bat in his hands. I think he’s made a lot of progress defensively. I’ve given him a lot of attention, and he’s responded. I think he’s catching the ball OK. That’s a lot to ask of a true freshman, to hit in the middle of your order and to play third base. But we’re going to see how he does.

On having a wealth of returners on the pitching staff:
There’s comfort in that. I think we lost only two pitchers from a year ago, and those guys are back that pitched last year. Some would say, “Well, they weren’t good enough last year.” If that’s the case, let’s hope they’re a lot better this year. But I’ve got confidence in them. I don’t know if the roles have been sorted out yet, but those guys have gotten better. We’ll try to define that as we go, but there’s a lot more guys to turn to.

On the pressure of being a consistently winning program:
Personally, I feel pressure. But it’s self-imposed. I love it when our fans get excited, positive or negative, because isn’t that what you want? You want them to be with you, and sometimes it’s not going to be as great as you want it, but I embrace that. My expectations are the same every year. There’s no talk about rebuilding, or any type of excuses. You either do well enough to get to the postseason, or you don’t. I love that. I like the fact that our fans have expectations, and our players like it. It’s a challenge, certainly in the league we play in. But that’s the way you want it.

On the leadership of the team’s veterans:
My philosophy has been, from the very beginning, that your older players run the program. They take on the goals, they take on the personality, they take on the leadership. And it’s been the case. We have guys right now in Jay Brown, Whit Merrifield, Kyle Enders… we’ve got older guys that take that upon themselves. There’s expectations to win, and that’s the primary goal. We have outstanding coaches here, we work hard and do the best that we can. But we want to be a team that gets to play at the end of the year.

On filling the holes left by some of the team’s departed offensive standouts:
I’m always optimistic that there’s going to be somebody there in that recruiting class. Whether it’s Robert Beary, or whether Adam Matthews explodes – everybody knows about him, but he’s still a young player. Is it going to be a Christian Walker? Is this the year (Scott) Wingo has a great year offensively? I don’t know, but we’re always optimistic that there’s going to be some guys other than your veteran players that will have good years.

On the battle for the starting spot at second base:
Adrian Morales and Scott Wingo are battling for that job. Wingo, obviously, has the experience in the program. Morales is a great competitor, I think he’s a winner. We may have him play a little bit of third for Walker. But we’ve got three weeks, hopefully, of scrimmages to get it sorted out. Wingo out-hit Morales a little bit in the fall, but Morales is a good player.

On left field:
It’s a good battle, we’re speaking of Adam Matthews and Robert Beary out in left field. I think they’re both going to find their way into the lineup. Robert Beary’s a great competitor. Matthews is a tremendous talent that, honestly, is just learning how to become an outstanding baseball player. He brings great skills to the table. I mean, how many guys can hit a ball off the left-field fence and get an inside-the-parker like he did against Arkansas last year? That’s unheard of. You want to try to get those skills on the field as much as you can.

On Kyle Enders and the catching position:
He’s been in the program a long time. He had his best fall since he’s been here. He only struck out two times the entire fall. He’s a solid catcher. He will probably call pitches a great deal of the time, something that hasn’t happened in a long time here. But that goes back to experience behind the plate. He’s got it, he’s intelligent. Now, Brady Thomas has made some strides. I feel comfortable with him as well.

On options at first base:
We have some choices. We’ve actually started experimenting a little bit with Robert Beary at first base. He’s one of those guys, a little bit like Whit Merrifield. He catches a little bit, he’s played some outfield, played third base on occasion, played a lot of second in junior college. He’s a guy that, when I first mentioned it to him, he was looking for a first-base scoop immediately. He played there yesterday in the simulation, he’ll play there today (in the scrimmage). But Jeffery Jones was the starter last year before we got Ebert into the lineup. Michael Roth has made strides as a hitter. Parker Bangs was outstanding against lefties. There’s some different guys that we can go to. Obviously, we’d like for Nick Ebert to be there, but that’s a wait-and-see situation.

On Jackie Bradley Jr.:
He’s a good player. He was an outstanding freshman. He has great perspective, which is important, I think, for a young student-athlete that is receiving accolades. He brings his lunch pail to work. His expectations are to be a key contributor to this program. The good news is that I think we’ve got some guys around him. I’ve got to think that he’ll get to play this game for a long time.

Whit Merrifield
On being a junior leader:
It’s weird. It’s flying by, it’s amazing. It feels just like yesterday, I was a freshman being taken under Reese Havens’ and Justin Smoak’s wings. Now to see some of these new guys coming up, it’s strange. It really is.

On his preference for playing right field or other positions:
It’s wherever is going to help our team. Wherever (Coach Tanner) wants me is where I’ll play.

On goals for the season:
Just to improve in all aspects. Getting on base more, stealing more bases, driving in some more runs, and just improving in every aspect to help us win a few more games this year.

Adam Matthews
On the competition for the starting spot in left field:
Robert’s a good player, I came out and saw him this fall and I wanted to compete with him. Coach Tanner said it was between him and me out there. I kind of had a rough summer, but I think it taught me a lot on and off the field, baseball-wise. It taught me how to face adversity, I came back this spring ready to go. My knee is good, 100 percent. I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things and play a role on this team this year.

On recovery from his injury:
Honestly, (the toughest part) was watching all these guys play and not being able to get out here and play. Going through the rehab and all, taking the time off is not something I’ve done in the past, at least since my sophomore year in high school. It felt great to get back out and start running and throwing it around.