Over the course of three years, Brett Kerry has done a little bit of everything for South Carolina baseball. He’s been called on to come on in the ninth and pick up saves. He’s pitched a few middles innings to help hold leads. He’s come in early when the starter has struggled and carried the rest of games.
Now, with the 2021 regular season winding down, Gamecocks coach Mark Kingston is tasking him with a new role — starting pitcher.
Kerry will be USC’s Saturday starter this weekend against Kentucky, Kingston announced Wednesday, replacing freshman Will Sanders. Senior Brannon Jordan will still go Friday night and redshirt junior Thomas Farr will pitch Sunday against the Wildcats in what is the penultimate series before the postseason for Carolina.
Kerry isn’t entirely new to starting; He’s made four before with the Gamecocks. And in those starts, he’s actually been quite successful, going 3-0 with a 4.43 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. But this weekend will mark his first start of the 2021 season, and it comes at a crucial moment when South Carolina is fighting to stay in the NCAA regional hosting discussion.
This past weekend against Mississippi State, Kerry came on in the series finale in relief of Farr and went six innings, holding the No. 4 Bulldogs to one run and keeping the game close enough for the Gamecocks to rally and win in extra innings. While he wasn’t credited with the win, he did lower his ERA to 2.25. The only two players ahead of him on the team in that statistic are Jaret Bennett, who has made just two appearances, and Jack Mahoney, who is out for the rest of the year with a torn UCL.
“Most of the times this year we’ve asked him to go extended, he’s done very well — this past weekend, at Vanderbilt — and so we just felt it was time to give him a chance to start the game and see how far he can go,” Kingston said.
Sanders, meanwhile, has struggled recently. The freshman made the jump to the weekend rotation early on in SEC play and ran his record up to 6-1 by mid-April, lowering his ERA to 2.11. But in his last three starts, he’s given up 12 earned runs in 9 1/3 innings. His strikeout numbers have also dipped and the Gamecocks have lost all three games as part of a slide that has taken them from No. 11 to No. 25 in the rankings.
In a reversal of roles, Kingston said Sanders will still likely get some key innings out of the bullpen to help fill the gap left by Kerry’s move to the rotation. Early on in the season, Sanders came out of the bullpen and showed well, not allowing a run in his first six appearances.
“We’ve got a lot of guys we’re confident can get us the last three outs, whether it’s (redshirt sophomore Julian) Bosnic, whether it’s (redshirt junior Andrew) Peters, whether it’s (junior Daniel) Lloyd. Obviously Sanders will go back into that role like he was early in the season, where he was really good, so we’re confident in those guys that they can get the job done,” Kingston said.
South Carolina’s pitching continues to rank in the top five of the SEC in ERA and batting average against, while the offense remains mired near the bottom of the league in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
But the pitching staff has seen its performance slip some recently, giving up five or more runs in nine of the last 10 games. In the previous 10 games, it had done so only three times.
The one game in this most recent stretch where the Gamecocks held their opponents below five runs? That Mississippi State series finale in which Kerry went six innings.
Kerry providing some added stability to the starting rotation could be crucial in a series where the Gamecocks are facing a desperate Kentucky team on the NCAA tournament bubble. And South Carolina itself could badly use some momentum. Since starting 10-5 in SEC play, the Gamecocks have gone 2-7, lost three series in a row — and had their confidence challenged, Kingston admitted.
“It’s a game of failure. So the game is always testing you, the game is always seeing how you’re going to bounce back. Just so happens in the SEC, it’s done even more because of the level of competition, so it’s only human nature that if you struggle, to get down a little bit,” Kingston said. “And we just want to make sure our guys are staying optimistic, they’re staying hopeful, that great success is right around the corner.”
NEXT USC BASEBALL GAME
Who: No. 25 South Carolina vs. Kentucky
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky
Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN