In relief, the Trojans will have the luxury of bringing in the likes of sophomore righty Carson Lambert — who tied with Clarke for the team lead with 27 appearances — and junior lefty John Beller out of the pen. The bullpen will hope to minimize the impact of losing closer Chris Clarke to the Major Leagues. Clarke led all USC relievers last season with 52.1 innings pitched and a stellar ERA of 1.03. Gill will look to guide the Trojans above .500 on the season for the first time since 2015. USC won’t leave Southern California until 15 games into the season, when it will visit the Oregon Ducks March 20. “I’m excited to finally play someone in a different uniform,” senior utility John Thomas said. “It’s been a lot of intrasquads against each other. But getting to play somebody else will be pretty cool. Between those three and infielders Chase Bushor and Brandon Perez, USC lost a combined 21 of the team’s 32 home runs from last season. On the mound, USC will be expecting increased contributions from starting juniors righty Kyle Hurt and lefty Isaac Esqueda, both of whom started more than 10 games for the Trojans last season. USC hopes to build on last season’s 25-29-1 campaign. Without significant contributors like outfielder Matthew Acosta, catcher CJ Stubbs and outfielder Blake Sabol — all of whom departed following last season after being selected in the MLB Draft — the Trojans have a few holes to fill. Head coach Jason Gill speaks to his team during practice Wednesday. (James Wolfe | Daily Trojan) Acosta was the only Trojan to finish the season with a batting average over .300 last season, posting a team-high mark of .319. He also owned the team’s highest OPS at .899. “There’s really no limit to this team,” junior outfielder Bart West said. “There’s so much talent. We’re under such a great coaching staff and we know how hard we’ve been working every day, so we’re really excited.” Along with Shockey, Gill and the Trojans are hoping for major contributions from expected starting third baseman junior Jamal O’Guinn, who had a strong average of .281 last season. O’Guinn demonstrated impressive plate discipline, drawing 27 walks — the top mark of any returning player for USC. He also had the most home runs of all returners with five. Hurt is one of USC’s strikeout artists, leading the pitching staff in punchouts last season with 81 in just 74.1 innings. Still, Hurt will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 5.69 ERA and reestablish himself as an early round pick in the MLB Draft. The USC baseball team kicks off the 2020 season this weekend with a three-game home series against Western Michigan at Dedeaux Field. Shockey had the second highest batting average of the 2019 team, posting a mark of .295 in 14 at bats. For the second straight year, Hurt is slated to start opening day on the hill. Last season, he tossed five innings on opening night against Nebraska, giving up 3 runs (2 earned) while racking up six strikeouts in a Trojan win. Gill, on the other hand, sees things differently. Despite the encouraging returners on USC’s roster, many media outlets are skeptical of the Trojans’ chances to succeed in Gill’s first season at the helm. A recent Pac-12 coaches poll predicted USC to finish seventh in the conference. Hoping to fill this void at the plate is senior outfielder Brady Shockey, who Gill labeled as USC’s most complete hitter after fall workouts. “A couple different publications —the two major ones I think — have us picked to finish in eighth in the Pac-12, and I think the coaches poll has us picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12,” Gill said. “The good news is that those don’t really matter, they’re preseason picks. I don’t think really anybody knows what’s in our camp.” Gill and USC will be looking to take advantage of a local preseason by getting into a rhythm before conference play opens up with a home series against Washington on March 13. The rest of the opening weekend rotation will be filled by Esqueda and redshirt sophomore lefty Alex Cornwell. So far, players are liking what they’ve seen from their new skipper and are confident about the season. Before looking ahead, however, the Trojans will need to stay focused on the task at hand in Western Michigan, which went 18-31 last year and will also open its season this weekend. Junior pitcher John Beller struck out a career-high 55 batters last season. (Ling Luo | Daily Trojan) Following a disappointing season in 2019, USC decided not to renew head coach Dan Hubbs’ contract after the season. In June, former athletic director Lynne Swann announced it had hired former longtime LMU head coach Jason Gill as its new head coach. In the time since, Gill has made it a point to change the culture around USC baseball, foregoing a sole emphasis on results in favor of first establishing a focus on relationships and development. Beller will hope to build off a promising 2019 season. He tossed 49 innings with an ERA of 3.86 for the Trojans last year, switching between roles as a reliever and a starter throughout the season. Hurt and the Trojans will open up their season and Gill’s tenure as head coach Friday at 6 p.m.