As the South Carolina baseball team continues to deal with injuries to its pitching staff, freshman left-hander Matthew Becker has made a name for himself in the weekend rotation.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Becker said. "Obviously, I wish we had a bunch of guys still in the bullpen ready to come out. It's exciting and I'm ready to keep on going."
After winning the first game of a doubleheader against top-ranked Texas on March 13, head coach Mark Kingston elected to start Becker, who had only pitched as a reliever up to that point.
Becker surrendered a first-inning home run to redshirt junior first baseman Ivan Melendez. But from there, Becker settled in and didn’t make another mistake as he retired every batter he faced.
He finished with 11 strikeouts and one walk in six innings.
“He was best available at that point, and that’s what we’re doing when we decide who’s going to pitch the next game,” Kingston said. “When you give guys opportunities, sometimes they really run with it, and he clearly did that today.”
Becker guided the Gamecocks to an impressive series victory over the Longhorns and showed some emotion on the mound, as he did a sword celebration after an inning-ending strikeout.
“It’s always fun, especially when you’re with your friends, group of guys and people that you’ve been working with for a while,” he said. “Coach (Justin) Parker tells us to pitch with emotion, not emotional. Throwing like that just gets everybody fired up and gets me, I guess, more locked in.”
In the days following the win, Becker gained traction on social media after Jared Carrabis, a prominent baseball personality in sports media, tweeted about Melendez’s 493-foot home run off Becker.
Becker responded with his final stat line, pointing out that “one run doesn’t win a game.”
“I was kind of mad (Carrabis) didn’t really give me respect to what I did," Becker said. "We ended up winning the game and there were no tweets about that. So I was trying to stick up for me and my teammates."
In his next outing, Becker faced another quality lineup, pitching against No. 7 Tennessee on March 20. After breezing through two innings, he gave up back-to-back home runs to begin the third inning, putting himself in a dangerous spot.
However, Becker pitched his way out of trouble and retired nine consecutive batters, ending his outing allowing two hits and a walk while recording seven strikeouts.
While he did pick up the loss, which occurred in part due to a lack of offensive production from South Carolina, Becker said he remained confident in his pitching abilities.
“I feel like, through hard work, you can do really anything,” Becker said. “I know I’ve worked hard, as hard as anybody in the country.”
In two starts, Becker has only allowed three hits and three earned runs — all coming from solo home runs — with 18 strikeouts and four walks.
Kingston said Becker is "tremendously" ahead of where he thought he'd be at this point in the season.
"I don't know how you can do better than what he's done the last two weekends," Kingston said. "He's a competitor. He's getting better every time he pitches. Coach Parker is doing a really nice job bringing him along. He gives us a weapon."
Fifth-year outfielder Andrew Eyster said it is important to have Becker and other young arms pitch down the stretch.
"We've got some arms down right now, and so, we really need to rely on all the healthy guys to be able to come out and do that whenever they're called on," Eyster said.
Becker's next start will come against No. 4 Vanderbilt when the Gamecocks begin a three-game series on Thursday night.