Vanderbilt Baseball — Fifth Week Behind, Week Ahead
It was the best of times and the worst of times for Vanderbilt this week. Riding high after being named the #1 team in the nation by the National Baseball Writers Association, Vandy started off the week going gangbusters while continuing a scoreless innings pitched streak to 32 innings, fueled by three consecutive shutouts on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. They were also on cruise control with an 8-4 lead heading to the 8th inning on Sunday, but a bullpen that entered the day with a 1.77 ERA full-on collapsed in that inning, yielding 5 earned runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. The high experienced from a truly dominant start to the week week, outscoring opponents 31-4 to that point, ended with a very demoralizing loss.
Despite the poor taste left by that failure, Tony Kemp in the post game interview seemed to keep somewhat upbeat about a series win being a series win. That was the case, despite falling to the dreaded To Be Announced bullpen day for Mississippi State. All told, Vanderbilt still enjoyed a fine week, going 3-1 and should stay in the 2nd to 3rd ranked position in all major polls, though they will likely cede their NCBWA top ranking back to Florida, who swept LSU in Baton Rouge.
The Immediate Progression – Pitching Depth
This year’s Vanderbilt squad features a depth of quality arms unlike any seen in the Coaches Tim Corbin and Derek Johnson era. While there have been many stellar staffs, including the 2004 squad that earned Johnson the National Pitching Coach of the Year award and the 2007 squad that featured first team All-Americans David Price and Casey Weathers, I’m not sure any can compete with the extraordinary embarrassment of riches the 2011 team features.
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The depth starts with the outstanding weekend rotation, but hardly ends there. The Friday-Saturday-Sunday rotation seems quite set with 2010 Baseball America Summer Pitcher of the Year Sonny Gray, 2010 Cape League Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin and solid senior righty Taylor Hill on Sunday. To date, those three have impressive numbers, with Gray at 5-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 33.2 innings, Garvin at 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 32.1 innings and Hill at 1-0 with a 3.25 ERA and 28 punch outs in 27.2 innings.
Where Vandy really steps ahead is in the 4-6 spot starter roles. True freshman Kevin Ziomek has flashed a pitching arsenal that is second only to Gray in its dominance and is on par with Navery Moore’s stable of pitches. Through 3 starts and 3 relief appearances, Ziomek is 1-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 21 innings. Although he could make a case to challenge for the weekend rotation, he’s not quite yet consistent with his location in the strike zone, which has led to a couple of hitting barrages against Texas in the fall and Stanford in the spring. Close behind the Omega Man is right-hander TJ Pecoraro, who has yielded just one run and 6 hits in 2 starts and 2 relief appearances. He is 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. Rounding out the starting pitchers is Jack Armstrong. Just back from a minor back injury, Big Jack was impressive in his only relief inning to date, striking out the side, while walking 2 and hitting another batter. Few teams in the nation can flash that kind of potential starting depth in a double elimination tournament format.
Bolstering the staff is an equally deep bullpen, led by All-American candidate and closer Navery Moore. Moore had a rough Sunday, yielding his first run of the year en route to his first blown save and loss, but he still features a stellar record of 3-1, with 4 saves, a 0.77 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. His 94 to 95 MPH fastball perfectly complements a power slider and change up. At Moore’s side is his right-handed bullpen-mate Mark Lamm. Jovially criticized for “snaking” wins, the big Loretto, TN righty is 4-0 on the year, matching Moore’s 0.77 ERA and besting him with 12 strikeouts in the same number of innings. Like Moore, he features a low-to-mid 90s fastball and solid slider, though Lamm gives a different look, coming more from the 3-quarters slot, compared to Moore’s over-the-top delivery.
Assisting in the setup corps are Will Clinard, who has no record, 2 saves and a 4.38 ERA that has been inflated by two poor outings (against 7 stellar ones). Clinard has allowed a team high .360 batting average against, but that is a skewed aberration, and he has struck out 15, against just 3 walks in 12.1 innings. From the left side, Corey Williams, like Clinard, has been victimized by two poor outings for an inflated 5.40 ERA, with just a .218 batting average against. He has no record and has punched out 16 batters in 15 innings. Both of Williams poor outings were marked by him struggling the second time through a batting order, after a solid performance in the three prior innings.
The bullpen is backstopped by lefty specialist Keenan Kolinsky, who has yet to allow a run in 1.2 innings over three appearances, behind the strength of the team’s best change up; sophomore lefty Sam Selman, who has a 3.86 ERA and 3 strikeouts in just 2.1 innings over 3 relief appearances; and true freshman lefty Steven Rice, who has walked 6 of the 9 batters he’s faced, but gotten the other three out in an inning of work over two appearances.
All told, the pitching staff is in spectacular shape, with a 2.45 ERA, a rate of 10.02 strikeouts per 9 innings, and a phenomenal .215 batting average against. In comparison, the 2004 squad featuring Jeremy Sowers, Ryan Mullins, Jensen Lewis and Matt Buschmann, with Ryan Rote as closer, had a 3.35 ERA and 8.12 strikeouts per 9 innings rate. The 2007 squad permitted a 3.55 ERA, .238 batting average against and 9.39 strikeout per 9 innings rate. While the 2011 Commodores’ numbers should flatten out a bit and come back to reality during conference play in the SEC, it is not hard to imagine a season with pitching numbers that beat both the 2004 and 2007 squads.
The Week Behind
It’s hard to not be happy with a 3-1 week that included a 32 inning scoreless streak for the pitching staff, but I would by lying if I didn’t say that it was expectation and not greed that leaves me a bit sour with our Sunday loss. That said, this was a week of high notes and I’m sure Coach Corbin will use Sunday as a teaching experience.
Tuesday: Vanderbilt 9, Purdue 0
In what was, perhaps, Vanderbilt first truly complete game of the year, the Dores dominated a Boilermaker squad that came in at 11-4, just behind Michigan State atop the Big 10 standings. From the start, it was apparent that the only thing that would halt starter Kevin Ziomek and his dominating stuff would be a little locational wildness within the strike zone. The Purdue bats managed just 2 hits and didn’t really get the good part of the bat on a ball all night. Ziomek’s imperfection of hitting the glove really just hammered home how good his stuff was, and he only walked two batters in his 5 shutout innings. Ziomek was replaced in the 6th by fellow freshman phenom TJ Pecoraro, who twirled 2.2 innings of nearly perfect ball, yielding only a walk and hit by pitch. Sam Selman closed out the 8th inning, facing just one batter and setting up the 2011 debut of Big Jack Armstrong. Last year’s Saturday starter, Armstrong had been on the shelf with a back injury. Hobbled or not, he brought very good velocity and missed some bats in striking out the side in the 9th. The rust did show up with two walks and a hit batsman.
At the plate, the Commodores were paced by Anthony Gomez’s 4 hit day, two hits from Mike Yastrzemski and Aaron Westlake, and an offensive explosion from Jason Esposito. Esposito went 3 for 5, with 2 runs and 4 RBI. In the first, Esposito singled home Tony Kemp with the first run of the game. Two innings later, Esposito’s 1 out double plated Aaron Westlake for the team’s 2nd run and scored the team’s 3rd two batters later on a Casali double. In the 8th, Esposito launched a laser into left for his first home run of the year, a two run shot putting the exclamation point on Vanderbilt’s 9 run victory.
The game marked the Commodores first shutout since Richie Goodenow’s 2-hit gem against Louisville last June 6th in the NCAA Regionals. Early on, you noticed two distinct things about Ziomek in his start. The first is that he is a bit like Sonny was as a freshman – his stuff is almost unhittable when he’s locating, but he often misses his spots in the strike zone. The second is that he has the ability to bear down and projects to be every bit as good as perhaps any Commodore pitcher outside of David Price. In the game, he picked up the win in his first collegiate decision and lowered his ERA to 2.14, second only to Sonny Gray among the pitchers with at least 13 innings pitched.
Friday: Vanderbilt 10, Mississippi State 0
It’s always Sonny at the Hawk on Fridays, even when it’s the first night game of the year. The 6 PM central start was the first game where the lights were on the start, but no one needed to flip a switch for the Commodore’s All-American right-hander. Although he was confronted with a bit of a tiny strike zone from plate umpire Hank Himmanen, Sonny Gray was dealing. Throwing a season high 112 pitches, Gray went 7.1 innings and permitted just 4 hits, though he did plunk 2 batters and walked another pair. But, as is typical with Gray, the punch outs were the big story, as he utilized a devastating power-curve to rack up 10 Ks and squelch any chance MSU had with their 8 base runners. In the first, however, it was the glove that did it. With a particularly small strike zone, Gray yielded a 1 out single and a walk, but induced powerful Cody Freeman into a routine 4-6-3 double play to get out of real threat. Vanderbilt turned another double play in the third inning. Corey Williams got the last two batters in the 8th inning, while Pecoraro closed out the 9th, allowing a walk and striking out a batter in his first weekend appearance of the year.
On the offensive side, Vandy jumped into work in the second inning and never let up. Leading off the frame, Esposito was hit by a 3-2 pitch, followed by a Yastrzemski single, Casali 2 RBI double, Gregor single, Harrell RBI sacrifice fly and a Reynolds RBI single to stake the Dores to a 4 run lead. They would add another run on an Esposito sacrifice fly in the 3rd and 3 more in the fourth on a Kemp RBI single, Gomez RBI fielder’s choice and a wild pitch that scored Kemp. With an 8-0 lead, Vandy cruised through a disheartened Bulldog squad that committed 5 errors on the day and they tagged on insurance runs in the 7th and 8th innings. Gregor and Kemp each had 2 of the 10 Vanderbilt hits, while Casali led the way with 2 RBI and Esposito and Gregor each scored twice.
Vanderbilt was able to put Mississippi State to bed with a second consecutive shutout and was able to get some reserves in for late inning action with Joe Loftus, Bryan Johns, Jack Lupo and Specer Navin pinch hitting, and Sam Lind and Drew Fann substituting in as defensive replacements. With the big win, Gray went to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.34. On the year, he has 46 strikeouts in 33.2 innings and has permitted opponents to bat a measly .140 against him.
Saturday: Vanderbilt 4, Mississippi State 0
As we all learned this week from Rebecca Black, Friday is followed by Saturday and then Sunday comes after. Heeding her advice, Vanderbilt continued to have “Fun Fun Fun Fun” en route to a third consecutive shutout, running the pitching staff’s scoreless streak to 31 innings. Grayson Garvin didn’t start the day completely sharp. In the first inning, he walked two batters and yielded two stolen bases to the fleet of foot Nick Vickerson. But Garvin made the pitches he needed to, getting big strikeouts with runners on base in each of the first three innings to keep the Bulldogs at bay. After the 3rd, he hopped into cruise mode, yielding only one baserunner in his final four innings. He was replaced by Mark Lamm who appeared to be throwing a bit more from a 3-quarters slot than earlier in the year. After some early wildness in the zone, Lamm sliced through the Mississippi State lineup, giving up just a two-out single in the 8th, before a 1-2-3 9th inning to close the door.
At the plate, Vanderbilt struck in the second inning again. After a leadoff single, Esposito advanced to 2nd on a steal and 3rd on a passed ball. Yastrzemski walked and advanced to 2nd with a stolen base, setting up Casali who fouled off several pitches before lacing a 2 RBI single down the right field line. After a Gregor walk, Coach Tim Corbin Vanderbunted his way out of the inning by sacrificing Connor Harrell in advance of 9 hole and leadoff hitters Reynolds and Kemp. Reynolds struck out and Kemp bounced out. Vanderbilt also had a few miscues on the base paths with Kemp being picked off by the catcher in the 1st, Gomez being caught stealing in the 3rd and Westlake being caught in a rundown with Kemp on 3rd after a single in the 5th inning. Despite the gaffes, Vanderbilt picked up 2 insurance runs in the 7th inning on a Kemp RBI triple and a Gomez sacrifice fly. All told, the Dores pounded out 11 hits to go along with 3 walks.
Gomez’ defense in the 6th inning highlighted the game. The lead off batter spanked a one hopper to Gomez’ glove side and the shortstop reached out, appearing to snare the ball even as it had zoomed past him. He pirouetted and fired a strike to Westlake at first. But that play was to be outdone by the next. On a slow grounder by Daryl Norris in the hole, Gomez fully laid out to snare it. He spryly hopped to his feet and fired to Westlake, who put together a tremendous, full-split stretch at first to nail the runner. The defense was all-together stout behind Garvin, who moved to 3-1 on the season, while lowering his ERA to 2.78.
Sunday: Vanderbilt 4, Mississippi State 0
Well, Vanderbilt started out the day going gang-busters with an easy 1st inning for Taylor Hill and a quick 4-0 lead heading into the second. Kemp led off the game with a double, followed by an RBI single from Gomez (extending his batting streak to 16 games) and a long home run to center by Westlake. The Dores added a fourth run on a 2-strike single by Harrell. Sadly, the scoreless inning streak ended at 32 as Hill ceded a run the in the 2nd inning after a lead off triple and one out single. Nevertheless, the Commodores stayed atop based on one out Kemp triple, followed by a Gomez RBI single and a Westlake RBI double. Unfortunately, on an Esposito single to the hole, Westlake was picked off of second base by an alert Jonathan Ogden at shortstop. From there, the Vanderbilt offense slowed down, plating single runs on a Reynolds pinch hit single in the 5th and a Drew Fann bases loaded squeeze in the 7th.
Meanwhile, MSU chipped away at the lead, scoring 2 unearned runs in the 5th inning on a 2-out home run by Jarrod Parks after a Gomez error at shortstop. The home run would end Hill’s day just shy of an official game. After cruising for 2.1 innings, Corey Williams and the Vanderbilt bullpen faltered in the 8th. Williams gave up a lead off single and a 4-pitch walk. Will Clinard came in and, after a pop out to Esposito, he gave up back-to-back singles loading the bases and closing the Vanderbilt lead to 8-5. Navery Moore entered with his nearly flawless line to date; sadly, that lack of scratch would not continue. Moore walked in another run, surrendered a 2 RBI single to tie the game and, after a fly out, yielded the lead on another single. With a 9-8 deficit, Vanderbilt was not able to equalize in the 8th or 9th inning.
A big part of the game was two failed Vanderbunts by Harrell, who failed to move two runners over in the 7th inning with no out and then popped up a Vanderbunt to the catcher with no out and a man on in the 9th. On the other side, Harrell successfully sacrificed in the 5th, leading to a run, and Fann executed a nice squeeze with 2 strikes in the 7th. All in all, though, the bullpen collapse and the decision to let Corey Williams try to work through the Bulldog lineup a second time played the key role in the loss. Moore took the hit on the ledger, with his first blown save and loss, moving his record to 3-1 and inching his ERA up to 0.77.
The Mississippi State win was the Bulldogs first in Nashville since 2002.
Apologies, Corrections and Indignation
My apologies this week go out to anyone who believes I’m a Corbin hater for disagreeing with his bunting philosophy or for stating that I thought this was the second example of a strategic mistake in leaving Williams out there to go through a batting order a second time.
Let’s start with the pitching decision. Williams’ ERA is now 5.40 and can almost be entirely attributed to two innings. These were the 4th inning against Western Kentucky (1 out recorded, 4 singles, walk, 5 earned runs) and the 8th inning last night (0 outs recorded, single, walk, 2 earned runs). What do they have in common? They were Williams’ fourth inning of service in each game and his second time through the opponent’s batting order. If you remove those two innings, Williams has a 1.50 ERA and we wouldn’t have been biting our fingernails against the Hilltoppers and just maybe could have averted a terrible loss against Mississippi State. Some pitchers are meant to go through an order more than once. We call them starters and, occasionally relievers when you don’t have a fully rested pen behind them. In my opinion, Clinard, Ziomek or Moore should have started the 8th inning and it was a tactical error, notwithstanding the fact that Williams had an impressive 7th inning (just as he had an impressive 3rd inning against WKU).
Then there’s the bunting bit. Admittedly, I’ve been much more pleased with who has been doing the bunting the last two weeks and how aggressive they’ve been. But from an ideological standpoint, I think it really hurts our offensive output. According to Chris Lee at VandySports.com, Vanderbilt is averaging 1.24 sacrifices per game this year, up from 0.56 sacrifices per game last year. The number of bunts toward the end of last season was believed to be drawn from our ridiculously abnormal number of grounded into double plays (a whopping 77 in 66 games). Through this year, we’ve bounced into only 14 in 21 games and have a Sabremetrics offensive efficiency of just 90.9% of expected runs (as against a perfect 100% rating last year). It’s difficult to say if the offensive efficiency is drawn entirely from over-bunting, rather than BBCOR bats, but our lack of big innings is certainly damaged by giving outs away. Further, while I believe we’ve had 7 sacrifice bunters reach base via error or hit, we’ve had, by my count, at least 6 failed sacrifices which cost us an out without advancing runner. That is, quite simply, too high. [Total hat tip to Chris Lee for all the Sabremetrics; if you're not a subscriber at VandySports.com, you should be.]
Now I’ll get back to the point. I’m sorry for those people who feel my criticism of strategy or pitching decisions is an attack on Coach Corbin. It’s not. What my criticism does is validate my opinion that Tim Corbin is one of the 2 or 3 best coaches in America (along with Mike Fox at UNC and, perhaps, Ray Tanner at South Carolina, though I’m not as set on the second spot). It validates it because my support of Coach Corbin is not dogmatic; it is rational and reasoned. What he has done at Vanderbilt in under a decade is something that has not been accomplished by any other major sport coach in a top flight conference. With the help of the administration and his assistants (particularly Derek Johnson) he has built a truly elite national power, such that Omaha is an inevitability, rather than a dream. But he has not done that without missteps or by walking on water. He is human and he acknowledges his mistakes as a coach.
For example, when it was clear that Coach Corbin was not the world’s greatest third base coach, he turned over responsibilities to Erik Bakich and, now, Josh Holliday. He’s adjusted strategy based on inputs in the past and the program continues to become more and more efficient. The sign of a truly great leader is not his infallibility, it’s his ability to learn from his mistakes and teach his pupils to do the same. So I apologize to readers and to the message board participants who don’t understand that.
As for my correction of the week, it goes to Georgia. I gave them a bit of a short stick last week, calling them the bottom of the pile in the SEC. Since Jonathan Taylor was hospitalized with a terrible neck injury on March 6, Georgia is 6-3 with wins over Alabama, UCLA’s Gerritt Cole, Southern Cal and South Carolina. This past weekend, it took a Scott Wingo 2 out hit in the 9th to save this past weekend’s series for the Gamecocks and prevent a Georgia series win. They’ve really rallied and have proven that they will be a tough out for the rest of the year, even if I still expect them to finish either at the bottom of the East or in 5th ahead of Tennessee.
My indignation this week is leveled toward the PA system at the Hawk. Although I watch my games via All-Access, generally, you can hear what they pipe out. Generally speaking, it’s normal ballpark fare; however, we also have a history of some less than classy things. The worst example was the question contest asking how many SEC coaches (including Corbin) turned down LSU before they hired Paul Mainieri in 2006. This was during a inning break in Mainieri’s first trip to Nashville in 2007. That was the low point, but we’ve also played embarrassing music and soundbites during opponent pitching changes that showed an immaturity in the behavior of the PA crew.
This past weekend, I believe they actually shifted toward illegal behavior twice on Saturday. The first instance was going over the PA microphone and urging the crowd to wave strikeout towels and cheer just before Garvin threw a third strike past a batter. The second was playing a Homer Simpson “Boring” soundbite after a Mississippi State pitcher threw over to first base three straight times. To my knowledge, both instances violated the SEC noise rules that prohibit the playing of artificial audio except between at bats or other stoppages in game play (other stoppages would include, by my book, pitching changes or long foul balls). So, I ask with indignation that the VU marketing staff get it back under control up there and a) learn the rules about when audio is appropriate and b) show some common sense in the selection of the media soundbites and quizzes.
For more Vandy Weekly honors, check out AnchorOfGold’s weekly Commodore awards.
Best Offensive Player:
This was a bit of a tougher week to call on the batter of the week. While Vanderbilt’s performance was outstanding, with 16 hits against Purdue and 34 hits against Mississippi State, the load was pretty balanced. This came down to a determination as to who among Kemp, Gomez, Westlake, Esposito, Yastrzemski and Casali had the best numbers. That the each of the first six batters in the lineup are up for weekly honors reflects the depth of this team’s offense. Ultimately, it came down between Kemp (8-16, 5 runs, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 2B, 2 3B), Gomez (9-17, 4 R, 4 RBI, CS) and Westlake (8-17, 3 R, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 3 2B, 3B, HR). While it would be hard to argue against any of the three, you have to give power a nod an honor Westlake for his consistently outstanding power stick.
Jarrod Parks rightfully earns the opposing offensive player of the week. In a week in which little offense was registered against the Dores, at least before Sunday, Parks was consistently solid. He managed to work 2 walks out of Gray on Friday, had 2 of the Bulldogs 3 hits on Saturday, and went 3-5 on Sunday, including a long 2 run home run off of Hill. He is one member of the Mississippi state squad who will not be hanging his head, despite the series loss to the Dores.
Sonny Gray of the Week:
As I threatened last week, I’m renaming the Pitcher of the Week Award the “Sonny Gray of the Week.” Gray was sterling again, but this week’s award goes to Grayson Garvin for a performance that was, really, just as good as Gray’s. Garvin labored a little early in the game, but his final four innings were simply dominating, setting up the opportunity to go for the series sweep with only Lamm unavailable out of the pen. For the year, Garvin is now 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA, .200 batting average against and has a sterling 32:6 strikeout to walk ratio.
In a week with few positives for the opposition, Mississippi State freshman reliever Hunter Renfroe was an eye opener. In a perfect 8th inning, Renfroe featured some serious, serious heat, hitting 96 on the gun more than once. He wasn’t yet pinpoint in his control (throwing 15 pitches to his three batters), but he has some kind of future in the SEC with an arm like that.
Here’s the weekend roundup, with ranking provided by the NCBWA (for no other reason than them ranking us #1).
Southeastern Conference Weekend Play
#2 Florida at #7 Louisiana State (Florida sweeps)
Friday: Florida 5, LSU 4
Saturday: Florida 1, LSU 0
Sunday: Florida 7, LSU 3
Georgia at #6 South Carolina (South Carolina 2-1)
Friday: Georgia 4, USC 2
Saturday: USC 2, Georgia 1
Sunday: USC 8, Georgia 3
Alabama at Mississippi (Alabama 2-1)
Friday: Ole Miss 4, Alabama 0
Saturday: Alabama 7, Ole Miss 5
Sunday: Alabama 6, Ole Miss 4
#11 Arkansas at #26 Auburn (Auburn 2-1)
Friday: Arkansas 6, Auburn 5
Saturday: Auburn 9, Arkansas 5
Sunday: Auburn 8, Arkansas 7
Tennessee at Kentucky (Kentucky 2-1)
Friday: Kentucky 5, Tennessee 3
Saturday: Tennessee 12, Kentucky 8
Sunday: Kentucky 7, Tennessee 3
Other Top 10 Teams
#3 Oklahoma went just 1-4 on the week, facing #8 Arizona State (0-2) and #12 Texas A&M (1-2).
#4 Florida State went 1-3 on the week against #1 Florida (0-1) and #5 Virginia (1-2).
#5 Virginia went 3-1 on the week, facing James Madison (1-0) and #4 Florida State (2-1)
#8 Arizona State went 4-1 on the week against #3 Oklahoma (2-0) and Oral Roberts (2-1).
#9 Texas Christian went 2-2 on the week, facing UT Arlington (0-1) and UNLV (2-1).
#10 Texas went 4-0 on the week against Texas State (1-0) and Kansas State (3-0).
All in all, there should be plenty of movement in the top 10 this week. I predict Florida will regain consensus #1 standing, with Vanderbilt holding onto the #2 spot just ahead of Virginia. Arizona State should move into the #4 spot with South Carolina (3-2 for the week), LSU (1-3 for the week) and Texas in a tussle for the #5 ranking.
The Week Ahead
Vanderbilt closes out an 18 game home stand on Tuesday against Tennessee Tech before heading out on the road for an SEC series in Fayetteville. Although the weekend rotation should remain consistent with Gray, Garvin and Hill toeing the rubber against Arkansas, it will be interesting to see who among Ziomek, Pecoraro and Armstrong gets the mid-week start. My guess would be Ziomek would get a second straight start, with Pecoraro and Armstrong slated to relieve.
Tennessee Tech is 7-12 on the season, with a small-sample Warren Nolan RPI of 196. They come in off a 1-4 week featuring a midweek loss to East Tennessee State and a home series loss to Purdue. They have a negative scoring margin of 5.5 runs scored per game to 6.9 allowed.
At the plate, they are led by stellar first baseman Zach Stephens of Soddy-Daisy, TN. Stephens is hitting .398 with 5 home runs and an astounding 27 of his team’s 101 RBI. Chad Oberacker provides a second power bat with a .271 average, 4 home runs and 16 RBI. As a team, the Golden Eagles are batting .285.
On the hill, things fall apart a bit with just three pitchers with ERAs below 5.50. They are reliever and spot starter Garrett Baugh (2-1, 2.16 ERA), weekend starter Matt Shepherd (2-3, 2.62) and spot starter Oberacker (0-1, 3.12). Oberacher and Shephard started over the weekend and Baugh threw on both Friday and Sunday, so expect to see either Jake McWhirter (0-1, 8.40) or Nick Price (0-1, 8.44) get the start against the Dores. As a team, the Tech ERA is 5.60, with a high 96 walks allowed in 180 innings. Teams hit .267 against the Golden Eagles and have hit 14 home runs in 20 games.
For the weekend, Vanderbilt heads to the unfriendly confines of Baum Stadium at George Cole Field. Vanderbilt actually has a 4-game winning streak in Fayetteville, including Saturday and Sunday wins in 2007 and Friday and Saturday wins (before a Sunday rain out) in 2009. This year’s Razorback squad enters the week at 15-4 and 11-1, coming off of a week in which they defeated Kansas and lost a series (1-2) at #26 Auburn. Last week, they were ranked 11th by the NCBWA, and should be ranked in the teens this week. They average 7.5 runs per game offensively, while yielding just 4.1 runs to opponents and carry a small-sample Warren Nolan RPI of 50, entering the week. They will play two midweek games against Memphis before the Commodores’ visit.
Offensively, they are led by first baseman Dominic Ficociell (.426, 10 2B, 23 RBI), right fielder Kyle Robinson (.388, 4 HR, 25 RBI) and third baseman Matt Reynolds (.379, 2 HR, 12 RBI). As a team, they bat .300 and have a stout .441 slugging percentage. That said, they don’t take that many walks, with just a 74:128 walk to strikeout ratio.
The pitching staff is, as is typical of Arkansas teams, good. They have a 3.80 team ERA with some strikeout arms (163 in 170.2 innings). They are led by newly appointed Friday starter DJ Baxendale (4-0, 2 s, 1.88 ERA), but falter a bit this past weekend on Saturday with Brandon Moore (2-1, 5.04) and Sunday with Cade Lynch (2-0, 2.70), neither of whom were able to get deep into the game. Another potential weekend candidate is Ryne Stanek (1-0, 4.98), with Geoffrey Davenpor (3-1, 4.95) now out for the season due to pitching elbow injury revealed last week. I don’t expect too much of a shakeup the weekend rotation with two midweek games on slate for the Razorbacks. The bullpen is anchored by Barrett Astin (2-0, 2.51), Nolan Sanburn (1-1, 2.53), Trent Daniel (0-0, 2.70) and Randall Fant (0-1, 3.09), giving Coach Dave Van Horn three very reliable relief arms.
It should be a really good weekend and the first opportunity since Stanford’s visit for Vanderbilt to truly test out their top flight ranking in the polls.
Baseball America - Top 25 Tracker Page (updates when posted by BA)
VandySports.com - Baseball Page (multiple stories and previews)
College Baseball Daily – Vanderbilt Tag (including Drew Fann’s weekly blog)
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