By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
Dylan Harley entered the 2018 season with huge expectations and plenty of preseason hype.
After earning a spot in South Carolina’s weekend rotation as a true freshman, Harley was expected to shine in his first season and help anchor a Gamecock rotation that lost all three starters from last season.
His first start was memorable. He struck out four of the first six batters he faced on opening weekend against Liberty. And then the wheels fell off. He walked the leadoff batter in the third and then, with two outs, gave up a hit and then walked four batters in a row. By the time the inning was over, he had given up five earned runs and lasted just 2.2 innings.
He pitched better in his next start, going four innings, but had another disastrous start against Clemson in an 11-5 loss in Greenville. After just three starts, Harley had an ERA of 9.64 and was suddenly out of the starting rotation and banished to the bullpen to figure out his approach and overcome his early struggles.
“At first it was kinda hard, but I told myself it was just adjustments that I had to make to pitch at this level,” Harley said. “And I feel like I have made them.”
The talented left-hander appears to have figured things out. In his last three bullpen outings, Harley has allowed just five hits and one earned run in 5.2 innings, walking four and striking out eight. He pitched two scoreless innings over the weekend against Georgia and earned his first career win with a solid outing against Furman Tuesday in Greenville.
He relieved freshman Daniel Lloyd Tuesday and after giving up a run-scoring triple to the first batter he faced, he allowed just three more hits and struck out four in 3.2 innings while walking only one.
“That’s his third our fourth time in a row that is encouraging,” head coach Mark Kingston said after the game. “He needs to be an important part of our pitching stuff. He gave us a real good outing tonight.”
Harley worked with Kingston and pitching coach Skylar Meade on a couple of mechanical adjustments. He has lowered his leg kick with runners on base and relied more on a slider, especially against left-handed hitters. But the biggest change was the mental adjustment to facing elite competition.
“It was more or less me just trusting my stuff,” Harley said Tuesday. “Coach Meade and Coach Kingston told me they believed in me, and that kind of helped me get over the hump. It’s just a new mindset.”
Kingston said adding a slider has helped both his reportoire and command.
“That’s helping him, for sure," he said. "It’s becoming a better pitch but he’s also throwing it for strikes and that makes the fastball better. He had gotten to the point where all he was throwing for strikes was the fastball and teams were able to figure that out and start to sit on it. When you have a secondary pitch they have to respect, then the fastball plays up. His ability to throw that slider as a legitimate pitch has really helped get guys off his fastball and that is a big part of his development."
After pitching out of the bullpen in key situations the last two weeks, Harley seems to have regained his confidence.
“It wasn’t really that my confidence was down, I just wasn’t catching a break,” he said. “My fastball wasn’t there, but the last few outings my feel for it has gone through the roof. Today I felt like I could throw a fastball by just about everybody.”
Fellow Summerville native TJ Hopkins believes Harley will bounce back to become one of South Carolina’s best pitchers. The rough outings, he said, are typical freshman struggles.
“Harley is going to be a really, really good pitcher. He’s as talented as they come,” he said. “Carlos Cortes, he started off really, really slow as a freshman, then he turned into Carlos Cortes. I just told Harley to keep pushing through it and he’s the type of kid who doesn’t let it bother him. He’s going to be really good this year and the next few years.”
Though Harley is developing into a key left-hander out of the bullpen, he could eventually work his way back into the weekend rotation.
“Too early right now,” Kingston said Tuesday night. “Right now he’s getting comfortable in this role and hopefully we can expand it.”