Notebook: No decision yet in Gamecocks’ shortstop battle

nwhite@thestate.comFebruary 9, 2014 

South Carolina's Marcus Mooney

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

Chad Holbrook was not ready Sunday to announce his Opening Day starter at shortstop. The competition between Marcus Mooney, a sophomore transfer, and DC Arendas, a sophomore returnee, remains close.

“Both kids have won the job. That makes it difficult for me. That being said, both kids are going to play,” Holbrook said. “I don’t know who’ll start Friday. It’s going to be very difficult for Mooney not to be in there somewhere, and it’s going to be very difficult for DC not to be in there.”

Holbrook could juggle his lineup against Bucknell by having Mooney at shortstop and Arendas at third base with third baseman Joey Pankake moving to left field in place of projected starter Elliott Caldwell.

“They’ll all play quite a bit this weekend,” Holbrook said. “We may have two different starters at shortstop over the course of the weekend. I’m going to look at it as one three-game series where we’re still trying to answer some questions that we have. It’ll play itself out.”

South Carolina to open the season Friday against Bucknell.

Leading off

Speedy junior center fielder Tanner English isn’t likely to start the season batting at the top of the order. Despite Holbrook’s desire to lead off his fastest player, he doesn’t want to do if it’s not going to work. Instead, English will bat ninth, where he hit in 41 of his 50 starts last season. He finished 2013 with a .381 on-base percentage.

“Tanner is very comfortable in the nine hole,” Holbrook said. “I’m going to hesitate to move him out of that, even though I want him to lead off. He’s just comfortable down there, and it seems when he plays well that’s where he’s at.”

That could mean that either Mooney or sophomore second baseman Max Schrock will hit leadoff.

Arms race

It appears as though freshman right-hander Wil Crowe will join junior left-hander Jordan Montgomery and sophomore left-hander Jack Wynkoop in the weekend rotation. All pitched well this weekend, and Holbrook clearly continues to be sold on Crowe’s ability to start right away at this level. Montgomery will get the ball on Fridays, while it has yet to be determined in which order Wynkoop and Crowe will pitch on the next two days.

New name, big bat

After hitting another big home run Sunday, Taylor Widener, a freshman from South Aiken, has forced his way into the mix to start at designated hitter. Widener bats from the left side and has flashed lots of raw power.

“We love the way he swings the bat,” Holbrook said. “He might be the only kid on our team who can mishit a ball and (have it) go out of the park. With these bats, that’s saying something.”

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Widener, who is the backup first baseman behind junior Kyle Martin, also has drawn praise as a right-handed relief pitcher. But it’s his bat that is opening eyes.

“He’s going to be in there from time to time,” Holbrook said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he got quite a bit of cracks. He’s a talented kid, and those tend to find their way in there.”

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