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Home > Baseball, Sport, Vanderbilt > Vanderbilt Baseball – Second Week Behind, Week Ahead

Vanderbilt Baseball – Second Week Behind, Week Ahead

February 28th, 2011

The Commodores kicked off their home slate against Belmont on Wednesday and Stanford over the weekend. Photo Steve Green, Vanderbilt University.

We’re now through with the second week and the takeaway is that this Commodores team is very, very deep and that they’re among the true elite. While this was not a perfect weekend and some of the bats have yet to awaken from a winter slumber, the Dores still managed to go win three of four from an often underrated Belmont squad and the #8 Stanford Cardinal.

The Immediate Progression: Debuts

Based on a story told by Chris Lee of VandySports.com regarding the befuddled reaction of a student broadcaster to a balk (“I don’t know what just happened, but the runner at third is making an immediate progression to the plate”) some years ago, I’m going to kick off each recap column with a theme for the week, dubbed “The Immediate Progression”. The initial theme is career debuts for four Dores. Three were great, one not so much.

Click on through to read all about it.

We saw some new player debuts and almost all of them were excellent. Leading off the week was TJ Pecoraro, who made his Black and Gold debut in a start against the Bruins. The 5’11” Pecoraro was one of my favorite players in this recruiting class, and not just because he’s from the Empire State. I’ve been saying for a while that Pecoraro reminds me of former Dore Nick Christiani and finally getting to see him on the mound at the Hawk convinced me further of that. While he doesn’t yet sport the mid-90s heat that Christiani flashed as a senior, he has a more advanced feel for pitching than Christiani did when he closed as a freshman. Scouting reports and videos had made it abundantly clear that Pecoraro was going to be game ready from day one. Just as he dominated the competition at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, he stifled the Bruins from pitch one, going 4 innings while allowing just 3 hits and 1 walk against 5 strikeouts. He was cool, calm and collected using an array of breaking pitches to complement his 90 MPH fastball. Pecoraro could continue to see midweek starts so long as Jack Armstrong is not 100 percent and the right-handed troika of Will Clinard, Mark Lamm and Navery Moore dominate in relief.

Pecoraro was not the only new face this week, as we also saw the first appearance at home of Conrad “The Terrible” Gregor. The big lefty DH from Indiana did not disappoint as he launched a pitch into the grandstands on his first career swing at the Hawk. In two games on Saturday and Sunday, Gregor tallied 3 hits in 5 at bats with 3 walks, 2 runs and 2 runs batted in. In doing so, he almost certainly made a strong push to see playing time at DH, a slot he is competing with Sam Lind, Bryan Johns and Joe Loftus to fill. Gregor really does mimic Aaron Westlake at the plate in that he looks like he owns it. While he doesn’t quite have the imposing presence or polish Westlake has, he may in fact have a better eye, having shown great discipline this weekend and in his one game out in San Diego.

Keenan Kolinsky faces a daunting task trying to replace Richie Goodenow (the Chuck Norris of lefty relievers), but he impressed in his Commodores debut. Photo Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

Closing out the weekend was Keenan Kolinsky, who threw the last 1.2 innings against Stanford. Kolinsky was a bit of an unknown, with more of a recruiting profile as a low D-1 linebacker than as a baseballer on most circuits, but the outfielder-turned-southpaw reliever seems to have taken well to his red shirt year with pitching Coach Derek Johnson. Forced into a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the eighth, Kolinsky proceeded to throw a high-80s fastball as a decoy to unleash his version of the Kraken: a changeup that appeared to be the best thrown by a Commodore since Mikie Minor in 2009. Of the about 10 hacks taken by Stanford batters, about a third were true flails and none of them were solid – quite a feat given the fact that they were swinging the BBCOR pretty solidly against All-American candidate Grayson Garvin. Kolinsky threw to six batters and came out unscathed, outside of one walk. He most certainly will represent the change-of-pace arm out of the pen for the Dores this year, a role patented by Richie Goodenow in the last two.

The only Dore to see a bit of a disappointing debut was Indiana native Steven Rice. Rice threw against Belmont and appeared to really be overthrowing the ball. He was not even close to throwing a strike to the last two of the four batters he faced. In all, he left having walked all four. Despite the poor start, he did show velocity slightly better than I expected.

The Week Behind

Vanderbilt did what it needed to do this last week. Going 3-1 against solid competition, they should retain their spot in the rankings or jump over UCLA and TCU, who had 2-2 weeks; they entered the week at #3 in the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls and at #4 in the USA Today / ESPN Coaches and Collegiate Baseball polls. The Dores have sewn together a tough schedule, ranked #17th in intended strength of schedule, according to Boyd’s World (which is a fantastic source of ranking metrics).

In the Wednesday home opener against Belmont, the bats continued their slumber in some cold weather, managing just 5 hits. The Dores took advantage of 6 walks, a hit batsman, 2 Belmont errors and 5 steals in 6 attempts to cruise to a 6-0 lead and eventual 6-2 win. Starring in the effort were Pecoraro, Corey Williams and Will Clinard on the hill. Williams threw two perfect innings, while Clinard wrapped up the 8th and 9th for his 2nd save of the season. No commodore batter managed more than 1 hit, while Tony Kemp paced the offense with two RBI.

This was the warm-up game to the premiere out-of-conference series on the schedule against the #8 Cardinal. First off, big props to Stanford for a) having a pitching coach named Rusty Filter and b) scheduling as tough an opening three weeks as possible with trips to Rice, Vanderbilt and Texas and a midweek game against the soon-to-be-gone Cal Bears program.

Going in, the Dores knew they were going to face an elite stable of arms helmed by a top 2012 Draft prospect in Mark Appel and an even more talented set of bats led by fantastic shortstop Kenny Diekroger. The weekend did not disappoint as all three games were competitive.

In the opener, Sonny Gray one-upped Appel by settling down after losing his control and walking several batters en route to surrendering a run in the second. From thereon out, it was all Sonny as the Bulldog from Smyrna flashed a fantastic power-curve in registering 6 strikeouts while allowing only 3 hits in 6 innings. The Dore bats remained lukewarm, getting only 8 hits off of Appel and outstanding southpaw reliever Chris Reed (who was consistently in the mid-90s). But they used back-to-back doubles by Curt Casali and Anthony Gomez in the 6th to sneak ahead 2-1 and the ferocious combination of Will Clinard (1.2 IP, 1 hit, 1 strikeout), Mark Lamm (.1 IP) and Navery Moore (1 IP, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts) shut the door on the Cardinal. Moore, in particular, shined with a dogged determination to throw strikes that must have arisen from the realization that no one can hit off his incredibly talented arm when he finds the strike zone. The Dores somewhat readjusted infield defense continued to show some kinks with errors by Jason Esposito and Gomez up the middle, but Sonny Gray picked up his teammates, particularly in the first when he picked off the first two batters who reached on Esposito’s error and a single. Gray moved to 2-0 with the win and Moore collected the save.

Vanderbilt pitchers picked off three runners over the weekend, including two by Gray for the first outs of the first inning. Photo Steve Green, Vanderbilt University.

In game two, Vandy sent Taylor Hill to the mound, but an inconsistent strike zone (on both sides) and Hills inability to locate it were a very bad combination. Taylor’s stuff was not terribly impressive when it was in the zone and he was touched for 5 earned runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in 3 innings. Hill did strike out 5 before giving way to freshman Kevin Ziomek. In his home debut, the Omega Man went three innings and flashed some good stuff (among his 5 strikeouts was a brilliant one against Stanford’s imposing freshman right fielder Austin Wilson), but Ziomek was also touched up by the solid Cardinal offense. He surrendered 2 runs on 7 hits and a walk in his 3 inning stint. From there, Coach Tim Corbin turned things back over to his closing righties and Lamm held Stanford in check for two innings, striking out 3 against just 2 hits. While Lamm was doing so, the Dores offense got back into the game, plating three runs in the 6th and the go-ahead run in the 8th. That led to the bullpen door opening to Moore once again. Moore was simply dominant, hurling strikes on the outside corner at between 94 and 99 miles per hours (on the stadium JUGS gun, so adjust that down to 96 MPH or so). Moore closed it out with ease, earning his third save, while Lamm moved to 2-0 with the win. On offense, the day was sparked by big lefties as Gregor and Westlake each hit long homeruns, Westlake’s being of the absolute artillery load variety. Westlake finished with 3 hits and 2 walks on the day, while Gregor and Casali paced the rest of the team with 2 hits apiece. The game was easily the highest scoring of the early year and Vanderbilt’s 8 runs and 13 hits were season highs.

Looking to sweep, the finale started off brilliantly with Garvin carving up the Cardinal in the first inning and Kemp and Mike Yastrzemski walking to lead off the bottom half of the frame. Then came the one point that I do not agree with in Coach Corbin’s philosophy. While I think he’s the finest coach in any sport in all of the NCAAs, he absolutely loves the bunt and he has asked every hitter south of Pedro Alvarez to do so. In the past, it has worked at times, but with guys like Curt Casali, Aaron Westlake and Esposito being asked to do it… well, it just doesn’t sit right. While Eposito laid down a perfect sacrifice, he was followed by a Westlake strikeout and a long Casali flyout, the chance for a big inning having escaped (I’ll probably discuss bunting philosophy next week to articulate my objections). From there, the wheels fell apart a bit as Garvin gave up back-to-back solo shots leading off the 2nd and Stanford’s Jordan Pries’ impressive array of change-of-speed looks continued to avoid the sweet spot of Vanderbilt bats. Pries did continue to battle wildness (6 walks), but he permitted only 3 hits and the Cardinal’s cannon armed catcher Zach Jones shut down the Vandy running game (he threw out all three would be base stealers on the weekend). While the Dores did even the game up in the 5th at 2-2, Stanford was getting good swings on Garvin (6 IP, 8 hits, 4 earned runs, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts) and was able to pull away with a 5-2 victory, handing Vanderbilt (7-1) and Garvin (1-1) their first defeats of the year.

Corrections, Apologies and Indignation

This week’s correction and apology comes with no indignation, as it’s quite pleasant. Will Clinard has been set up into the Chase Reid “Mr. Everything” role for this year’s Dores. The team’s top returning ERA guy (non-Grayson Garvin category), Clinard is a guy who can give you a handful of quality innings mid-game or late and has the versatility to stand in for a spot start (which probably won’t be needed on a team with this much starting depth).

But it wasn’t until this Sunday that I realized that I’d missed the big addition to his repertoire. A quick tweet to catcher Drew Fann confirmed what my eyes were telling me: Clinard’s fastball no longer tails. Instead it cuts… and it cuts hard. About 10 to 15 feet from home, the cut fastball juts in on lefties and away from righties. On Sunday, this was especially notable as Clinard worked the inside corner hard, leaving several Cardinal batters jackknifing away from pitches (a couple of which were called strikes).

Will Clinard is the stable center of the Vanderbilt pitching corps, bridging the gap between the top of the line starters and the lethal closing duo of Mark Lamm and Navery Moore. Photo Mike Rapp, Vandysports.com.

Going along with a good straight fastball and plus slider, curve, change arsenal, this development was completely missed by me until now, but boy is it welcome. With more righties on staff and only Corey Williams having experience as a lefty out of the pen (Ziomek, Sam Selman, Kolinsky and Rice sported a combined 0 innings of SEC experience coming into the year and only Selman threw last year), a solid cut fastball can be a very effective weapon against lefty-heavy lineups.

With great, but pleasant indignation, I level this formal complaint to Will Clinard, who seems more hung up on being a weatherman than on keeping the fan base up to speed on the latest developments in his pitching repertoire.

In other corrections, it appears that Riley Reynolds and Bryan Johns have fallen into a platoon at third base. Reynolds made three outstanding plays at the hot corner and continued to look comfortable at the plate, even if he didn’t really get the bat going too hot. Expect to see Johns against lefties and Reynolds against righties for the time being, as Chris Lee first reported.

In the more speculative category, one has to wonder how the shakeout will be between newcomers Sam Lind and Conrad Gregor in the DH hole. Both are lefty bats and both impressed over the last two weeks. With the lack of real, legitimate power outside of Esposito, Casali and Westlake, one has to think Gregor will be afforded an opportunity to win the job outright, but he’s not just competing with Lind. Outfielders Jack Lupo and Joe Loftus are very talented from the right side and should push for time at DH, with Kemp, Harrell and Yastrzemski looking pretty set as the starting outfield. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

Weekly Awards

Best Offensive Players:

For the Dores, the best offensive performance goes to the newbie, Conrad Gregor. As noted above, he had a brilliant debut in two games, lacing his and the Commodores’ first home run of the year, making solid contact and utilizing a keen eye both days. For the weekend, he had 3 hits, 2 runs, 2 RBI and 3 walks, including a homerun, in 8 plate appearances. Westlake also had a big week, but this honor goes to the freshman.

For the Cardinal, although they had a top-to-bottom Thunderdome of a lineup, I’ve got to give recognition to thirdbaseman Stephen Piscotty, who absolutely owned Grayson Garvin in three at bats. In the second, he turned on a fastball left over the plate and launched it well over the monster in left. In the fifth, he took a backdoor slider and perfectly placed a line drive into right for a single. In his next at bat, he raked a line drive which I cannot recall was caught either by Riley Reynolds at third or Kemp in left. Piscotty was 5-11 on the week with 3 runs, 3 RBI and a homerun.

Pitchers of the Week:

Both sides get relievers into the mix. With the Dores, it’s closer Navery Moore. The Battle Ground Academy product was absolutely lethal, with pinpoint control and mid- to upper-90s heat in earning easy saves in the Friday and Saturday games. He starts his windup much like Mariano Rivera, as a cobra coiling up and preparing to strike. While his follow-through is not nearly as sleepy as Rivera’s, the results were much the same, permitting only a weak looping single to right in his two innings of work. After watching him Friday, I immediately messaged Brian Foley of CollegeBaseballDaily.com and said he’s got a dark-horse All-American candidate to watch out for. Further, I think the early scout rumblings from San Diego may be justified in saying that Moore might be a first round pick this June.

On the Cardinal side, previously mentioned lefty Chris Reed was nothing short of awesome in his two appearances. He throws almost as hard as Moore and while the Dores did manage 3 hits and a walk on Reed, they never really threatened to touch him up much. He’s a true power lefty and at 6’4” 190, it’s not hard to imagine him drawing first or second round interest in this year’s MLB draft.

The Week Ahead

Vandy stays firmly planed at home this week with visits from Western Kentucky on Tuesday at 4 PM and Brown for a weekend series with starts at 4 PM, 2 PM and 1PM.

The Hilltoppers come in at 5-2 on the season, having swept Bowling Green in the opening week and a game against Lipscomb before losing 2 of 3 at the Caravelle Resport Baseball at the Beach, hosted by Coastal Carolina. Held to just 1 run in each of their last two games against Coastal and Pacific, Western Kentucky had come in as an offensive juggernaut, averaging almost 10 runs in their first five games. Expect Pecoraro to get another start, unless Jack Armstrong is finally healthy.

On the flip side, Ivy League Brown is making their season debut in this, our third weekend of the year. The Bears are not expected to be the stiffest of competition we’re likely to face this year, but you never know in baseball. Gray, Hill and Garvin figure to continue to be the weekend rotation.

Reading List

College Baseball InsiderCoaches Survey Ranks Johnson Top Pitching Coach, Corbin Among Top Head Coaches

Baseball America Top 25 Tracker Page (updates when posted by BA)

VandySports.com Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews)

Vandy BlogoSphere – Anchor of Gold and VandySportsLine

College Baseball DailyVanderbilt Tag

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