Gamecock Baseball Spring Scrimmage No. 1

Carmen Mlodzinski

Carmen Mlodzinski admits he was a bit nervous during the first Opening Day start of his career last year, and it showed on the mound.

Mlodzinski, a sophomore, lasted just four innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits and three walks in a 6-5 loss to Liberty.

RELATED: An ode to Opening Day

A year later, the veteran right-hander is handling things much differently going into his second Opening Day start Friday against Holy Cross.

“Just be who I am out there on the mound,” Mlodzinski said Thursday. “I obviously learned a lot about how to handle those situations. Being a year older now, reflecting on it, just figuring out what well for me and what didn’t and how to learn from that and just execute a little better this year.”

Mlodzinski is a completely different player than the pitcher who took the mound on Opening Day last year. Two weeks after his first start last year, he broke his foot during a start at Clemson and missed the rest of the season.

While recovering, he hit the weight room, getting bigger and stronger and preparing himself for a pivotal summer. He then dominated the elite Cape Cod League, going 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 34 innings. Facing some of the best hitters in the country, batters hit just 1.36 against him.

After the strong summer performance, Mlodzinski’s draft stock soared. He now enters his third season as one of the top 10 prospects in the country.

More importantly, the 6-2 right-hander has a much better mental approach.

“The Cape Cod league was very, very key for him,” head coach Mark Kingston said. “He went there coming off the injury last year and didn’t know what to expect. His team didn’t know what to expect, he didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t now what to expect. And he dominated.

“I think that gave him a good confidence that he may never have had. He starts to figure out now what his mindset needs to be, whether I need to be a little more relaxed and loose and that helps me get to the top of my game. His confidence is at an all-time high. I just think he’s comfortable being who he is. Everything about him is just better, his confidence and his stuff, everything is better.”

MORE: Kerry relishes spot in starting rotation

Mlodzinski admits he’s a different pitcher and person entering the 2020 season.

“Just a lot more relaxed, a lot more comfortable with myself, for sure,” he said. “I feel like that is definitely going to help me out this year.”

Mlodzinski is crucial for a team looking to bounce back from a disappointing 28-28 season (8-22 in the SEC) and return to SEC and postseason contention. It all starts with the Gamecocks’ Friday night and Opening Day starter.

“I want him to set the tone,” Kingston said. “When you have his stuff and you are the Friday night guy in the SEC, you need to set the tone. Set the tone with aggressiveness, set the tone with your body language, set the tone with, ‘Hey, follow me and we will be OK.’

“I just want to see him give us a good quality start and set the tone for a weekend and hopefully for a season.”

Mlodzinski is loose, relaxed and ready.

“Just another game,” he said.