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Feb 06, 2024

Hughes Key To Tigers’ Success

By: Will Warren

Not only is the 2024 Clemson pitching staff equipped with talent, depth and game-tested experience, the Tigers’ locker room is also full of personality and confidence. Much of that spark is owed to sixth-year senior and graduate righthander Rob Hughes, who transferred to Clemson from Furman in 2020 after the school discontinued its baseball program.

Following a solid 2021 campaign with the Tigers, Hughes suffered an arm injury and missed the entire 2022 season. He returned in impressive fashion in 2023, with a 1.56 ERA, 21 strikeouts against only three walks and a .200 opponents’ batting average in 17.1 innings pitched. Proving himself to be one of the best relief pitchers on the team, Hughes was a key factor in the Tigers’ 17-game winning streak, which included an ACC Tournament championship.

Hughes was even better under pressure. With runners in scoring position, he held opponents to a .143 batting average and did not allow any of his eight inherited baserunners to score. When asked how he manages to stay calm and excel in high-pressure situations, he responded with the same cool and collected demeanor that he displays off the field.

“It’s a great team environment that is definitely ‘all in’ every day. We always train just as hard as we play, and we go out there and compete without thinking anything of it.”

Hughes attributed much of his success to team chemistry.

“A lot of why we play is for each other, so it’s a whole different thing.”

When asked about the recovery process from his 2022 arm injury, Hughes recognized the importance of the athletic training staff and how they assisted him.

“The recovery process was a long one. Having Tommy John (surgery), it’s at least a year-long recovery, and it’s long. I’m very appreciative of the doctors and training staff who forged a path ahead. But you really have to find yourself.

“You might think your identity is a ballplayer, but in reality, you are who you are and you’re happy to be a ballplayer as well.”

The Rock Hill, S.C. native is well prepared and excited for the start of the 2024 season, when he will work out of the bullpen for what is regarded as one of the most talented pitching staffs in the ACC.

“The pitching staff is great. I’ve never seen a staff hit the ground running like we did this fall. We came back from the summer, and when we all got here for the first time in the fall and all our freshmen came in, we were all ready to get after it. We’re ready to compete whenever our name is called. We want to go out there and be the best we can be for the team.”

Also contributing to Clemson’s 2023 success was the addition of Pitching Coach Jimmy Belanger. During his time at Florida State from 2020-22, Belanger served as a mentor to many of the ACC’s best pitchers. Hughes shared high praise for Belanger.

“He’s the man. It has been a blessing to get to work with Coach Belanger for the past two years, he really pounds into our heads to throw strikes and compete. At the end of the day, you put in as much work as you can and then go out and compete. That’s really all you can do.”

Hughes has also demonstrated great academic success as a two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member and earning his degree in computer science last May. He puts complete effort into his academics, while acknowledging the support he is provided by his family, coaches, support staff and teammates.

“My family raised me to always give my best, a message Coach (Erik) Bakich preaches every day. So we just try to do our best on the field and in the classroom.”

Hughes detailed that there were many important factors in his decision to transfer to Clemson in 2020, from already having close connections with current players, Clemson’s beautiful campus, the amazing people and ultimately the baseball program and staff.

When not on the diamond, Hughes enjoys spending time with his friends and family. His favorite hobbies are fishing, golfing and playing video games with friends.

He comes from an athletic background, as his father, John, was an All-America golfer, earning ACC Player-of-the-Year honors at North Carolina.

“He could not play for six months and then come back and shoot a 68.”

When asked if he inherited his father’s skills, Hughes humbly described his own golfing skills as “pretty good.”

Hughes’ veteran presence and leadership will be key in anchoring the bullpen for a team looking to add to the trophy case in 2024. He provides the perfect balance of resiliency and confidence for what many believe is Clemson’s deepest and most talented pitching staff in recent years.

These traits will be critical in navigating a tough ACC schedule, with an ultimate goal of ending its season in Omaha.