The 2015 season probably wasn’t the type of season Taylor Widener had anticipated having after posting a 1.79 ERA as a freshman in 2014. In 2015, he had a 4.78 ERA and opponents hit .264 against him (after hitting just .170 off of him in 2014).
Of course, many of his other statistics would hint that he didn’t struggle as much as the ERA would tell you. After all, he still struck out 44 hitters in 32 innings of work. He did also save nine games, so it certainly was far from a completely lost season. But, as could be said for the team’s season as a whole, things just didn’t go as well as planned.
If the Gamecocks are going to put last season behind them and make their way back into a regional in 2016, they’re going to need a big season from Widener, likely as a starting pitcher.
The coaching staff at South Carolina has toyed with starting Widener in the past. He started three games last season and saw some success, like the time he started against Auburn in May and threw five scoreless innings, striking out seven. And even in games that he didn’t start, he has thrown starter’s innings in the past. In a regional back in 2014, for example, he threw 6.1 innings of relief against Maryland. So Widener slotting into the weekend rotation isn’t all that big of a stretch (no pun intended).
Just in general, finding some stability and quality in the rotation is a huge key for the team in 2016. A season ago, Jack Wynkoop had a solid year, but they often struggled to put together quality starts behind him. Wil Crowe struggled for much of the early season before being shut down midway through the campaign with an elbow injury. He’s also slated to miss all of the coming season while recovering from his subsequent Tommy John surgery.
Clarke Schmidt and Josh Reagan both got the job done at times, but both had what could be described as up and down seasons.
Schmidt has big-time stuff, so it will be fun to watch him mature as a sophomore, but Widener has SEC-level stuff also, and combined with the storyline of his move from the bullpen to the rotation, his is the more compelling story, and he’s the bigger wildcard for the Gamecocks, as we head into the 2016 season.