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Home > Baseball, Sport, Vanderbilt > Vanderbilt Baseball — Sixth Week Behind, Week Ahead

Vanderbilt Baseball — Sixth Week Behind, Week Ahead

March 28th, 2011

Vanderbilt went into Fayetteville and stole 2 of 3 from the Razorbacks. Photo: Wesley Hitt / Arkansas.

Another week and Vanderbilt is likely headed to another #1 ranking, as the Commodores took care of business with a 3-1 week, while Florida faltered against South Carolina, after spanking Winthrop by a total score of 32-5 in two midweek games. The Florida series loss should push Vanderbilt into the top spot, unless they are leapfrogged by Virginia, who was impressive in sweeping a 5-game week and holds a 1.5-game advantage over Vanderbilt for the best record in NCAA baseball.

The Immediate Progression: Beasts of the East

Two weekends into the SEC season, and it does appear that there has been some shakeout to separate the elite three from the rest of the conference pack. Although the Crimson Tide currently hold the conference’s best record at 5-1, they’ve only played Ole Miss and Kentucky. The real power source is atop the Eastern Division, where three top 5 ranked teams dwell.

Click through to keep on reading.

From the start of the season, it was known that Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina were going to be impressive. With Gamecock Starter Nolan Belcher going down with a season-ending injury, it appeared that the Gators and Dores, behind their superior pitching staffs, might have an advantage. But as we enter the third weekend of SEC play and near the mid-way mark of the regular season, all three teams are excelling and are even in the conference standings.

At 21-4 (4-2 SEC), Florida has held the #1 ranking for most of the season behind a strong offensive output (6.5 runs per game) and a solid pitching staff and defense (3.0 runs allowed per game). They’ve done this against the #5 schedule, going 8-3 against teams with top 50 RPI and 19-4 against top 100 RPI teams, highlighted by a clean sweep against LSU in Baton Rouge two weekends ago. The Gators have the #1 Warren Nolan RPI and #5 Nolan Power Index.

Vanderbilt figures to be this week’s #1 team, carrying the second best record in the NCAAs at 22-3 (4-2). The Dores have not played quite as tough a schedule as the Gators (#56 SOS), but they’ve gotten the job done against top competition (6-3 against Top 50 RPI teams) and have yet to play a team not in the RPI top 200. Further, their defense and pitching have been superb, with a 2.8 runs against average, while scoring 5.8 runs per game. The highlights of the year so far have been series wins against Stanford and at Arkansas. The Commodores have the #8 Warren Nolan RPI and #6 Nolan Power Index.

Rounding out the big three are the Gamecocks, at 18-5 (4-2). The Cocks are the most offensive of the three squads, with a lineup churning out 7.1 runs per game, while allowing opponents just 3.5. They’ve played a tough schedule (11th) and have remained in the Coaches top 8 all year long. They are 11-5 against top 100 RPI competition, and are 6-3 against top 50 RPI teams. Highlights on the early season include series wins against Clemson and this past weekend against the Gators. South Carolina has the #5 Warren Nolan RPI and #10 Nolan Power Index.

The Week Behind

It was another great week for Vanderbilt pitching, yielding 2 earned runs on Tuesday, 2 on Friday, and 1 each on Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately, on Friday, the offense wasn’t on high octane, and the Dores dropped a Sonny Gray start for the first time. All told, Vanderbilt escaped the weekend with a series win, despite scoring only 7 runs on Hawg pitching. The 3-1 week has Vanderbilt poised to jump ahead of Florida for the #1 ranking in most of the polls, so long as Virginia doesn’t catapult past the Commodores from their #3 ranking.

Tuesday: Vanderbilt 11, Tennessee Tech 2

In a true bullpen day, we saw the depth and dominance of the Vanderbilt pitching staff, with 6 pitchers combining to shut down the TTU offense. It was not, however, a start without some intrigue provided by the visitors in the last game of an 18 game home stand for the Dores. After an easy 1st inning for Kevin Ziomek, TTU cleanup hitter Zach Stephenson (who is a comically intimidating character at the plate, appearing to sand down the bat handle with his grip as he chomps at the bit for pitches) hit a monster shot over the center field fence; however, the pitch was thrown during a timeout, apparently because the 90-second mid-inning clock had yet to expire. Ziomek (2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 5 K) retired Stephenson, but later in the inning surrendered a two run blast to left. It would be the last offense seen against the Vandy staff as TJ Pecoraro (2 IP, BB, 2 K), Sam Selman (IP, K), Jack Armstrong (IP, BB), Will Clinard (IP, 2 K), Mark Lamm (IP, 2 H, K) and Navery Moore (IP, BB, 2 K) finished the day with 7 dominant innings.

On the offensive side, the Dores scored a pair of runs in each of the 1st and 4th innings, before breaking out with 4 runs in the 7th and another 3 in the 8th. Connor Harrell led the way with a majestic two run homer, en route to a 2-5 day with 3 RBI. Anthony Gomez, Aaron Westlake and Mike Yastrzemski each pitched in 2 hits, as the Commodores pounded out 11 hits, to go along with a season high 10 walks. That said, Vanderbilt managed just 1 steal in 5 attempts, with Spencer Navin getting nabbed twice on the base paths. This inconsistency on the bases would continue later on in the weekend.

The story of the game may have been Navin starting behind the plate. In a glance at Vanderbilt’s future battery, we saw Navin catch Ziomek and Pecoraro. He was cat-like behind the plate, doing a very good job getting his chest in front of pitches in the dirt. He also flashed his elite-level pop times on throws. In one successful steal attempt, Navin grabbed a tough pitch low and away and squared his shoulders for a strong, fast throw that was pulled a little left. Navin projects to be an elite level defensive presence. His catching helped Pecoraro pick up his 3rd win of the early season. The freshman righty is now 3-0 with a team-best 0.61 ERA (minimum 10 innings pitched).

Friday: Arkansas 2, Vanderbilt 1

It’s not often that we see Vanderbilt fall short when Sonny Gray is on the hill, but this would be one such game. In a couple of Gray’s early outings, he started sluggishly before finishing strong. This was not the case as Sonny was strong from the start, stunting the Razorback offense with his standard array of heat and power curves. Despite racking up 12 strikeouts, Gray surrendered 2 runs in the 8th inning on a slow chopper up the middle with runners on 2nd and 3rd base. Gomez slid and stopped the ball, but did not have time to throw to first and could not grip the ball in time to get the second runner steaming around from second, as that Razorback slid under Casali’s tag.

Cade Lynch was masterful for Coach Dave Van Horn on Friday. Photo: Wesley Hitt / Arkansas

On the offensive side, nothing was doing for Vanderbilt. They scored their only run in the 5th inning when Jack Lupo doubled and later scampered home on a wild pitch. Other than that, there was little in the way of scoring and even threats on the base paths. One potential opportunity was erased when Jason Esposito was caught stealing on a very close play at second for the first out and Yastrzemski was picked off first a batter later in the inning. So with the Commodores providing support neither at bat nor on the base paths, the 2 runs surrendered in the 8th were enough for Arkansas to hold on for a 2-1 victory.

While the story of the day was probably Vanderbilt’s impotence at the plate, kudos do need to rest with Arkansas’ top two pitchers, Cade Lynch (6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 HBP) and reliever DJ Baxendale (2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 K), who had started for Arkansas last Friday. The two stymied the Dores all night. Baxendale (5-0) earned the victory, while Gray (8 IP, CG, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 12 K) took the tough luck loss, dropping to 5-1 with a 1.51 ERA.

Saturday: Vanderbilt 4, Arkansas 1

The front line punch of Vanderbilt’s Friday-Saturday starters means that even if you top last year’s Baseball America Summer Pitcher of the Year in game one, you’ve got to contend with the Cape Cod League’s Summer Pitcher of the Year in Grayson Garvin. The tall lefty also gives you a unique look with a 6’6” frame and pinpoint control. Despite laboring a little more than usual in his last two starts, Garvin was in complete command this week. Using just over 100 pitches, he was slightly better than Gray the day before, permitting just a single in the 3rd inning and a home run to James McCann in the 7th inning. After finishing off the 8th, Garvin gave way to Moore who closed things out despite a lead off 4-pitch walk and another batter reaching on an error.

On the offensive front, Vanderbilt got on the board in the 3rd inning, with some assistance on the 1st of 3 Bo Bigham errors at second base for the Razorbacks. The error preceded an RBI single from Gomez (extending his batting streak to 19 games), which was followed by a 2 RBI Esposito single two batters later. Vanderbilt added a 4th run, with more help from Bigham’s 2nd error of the game. Tony Kemp led the way for Vanderbilt, scoring a run and pounding out 3 of the team’s 9 hits. Westlake and Esposito each added 2 of their own.

Obviously, the highlight of the day was Garvin’s performance. In 8 innings, he allowed just 2 hits, 2 walks and the 1 run, against 6 strikeouts. More importantly, he pitched ahead and in control all night long and avoided real scoring threats. With the win, he moved to 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Moore picked up the save, his 5th of the year.

Sunday: Vanderbilt 2, Arkansas 1

While I didn’t get a chance to see the games on Friday and Saturday due to plans with friends, I did enjoy the chance to watch the Dores on ESPN3 on Sunday. With a ton of pressure and a weekend series on the line, Taylor Hill and the Commodores bullpen came up huge. Hill twirled 5 shutout innings, only getting into trouble in the 5th inning after a single and pair of walks gave Arkansas the bases loaded with just 1 out. Hill (5 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K) bore down, getting two huge strikeouts to retain Vanderbilt’s tenuous 2-0 lead. Corey Williams (1.1 IP, H, K) came in to start the 6th and had an impressive appearance, before giving way to Will Clinard after a 1 out single in the 7th. Clinard (.2, H, ER) closed out the 7th, but allowed a lead off single in the 8th. He was replaced by Mark Lamm, who gave up a sharp single, before forcing a routine sac fly to center field and a slow bouncing single to the shortstop hole that Anthony Gomez made a spectacular play on for a near-force at first base. With the tying run on second, Kevin Ziomek entered and was masterful, striking out a batter and getting a routine liner to Tony Kemp in left to prevent any further damage. In the 9th, Navery Moore (1 IP, 2 K) got the job done, striking out 2 and getting the Dores the victory, despite a batter reaching on an Anthony Gomez error.

Tony Kemp enjoyed a fine week at the plate, terrorizing Razorback pitchers on Friday and Saturday. Photo: Mike Rapp, VandySports.com.

At the plate, the Vanderbilt bats were largely silent again against a talented and deep Arkansas staff. That said, Aaron Westlake made one very loud statement in the 2nd inning. He sent a high fastball from Razorback starter Randall Fant (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, BB, 2 HBP, 3 K) rocketing through the air and off the scoreboard in deep right center. BBCOR bats or not, it reminded one of the twin shots that Westlake and Arkansas’ then-third baseman Zack Cox sent flying to the top of the scoreboard in Hoover in the 2009 SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt got another run in 4th, when Curt Casali scampered home on a wild pitch. Beyond that, the Commodores didn’t threaten often, with their next best opportunity with a runner at third came up empty after Connor Harrell and Bryan Johns each struck out in the 7th. All told, the team managed only 5 hits, 2 walks and 2 hit by pitches on the day. Additionally, Anthony Gomez’ bid for a 20 game hitting streak came to and end after an 0-3 performance and a sacrifice bunt in the 8th.

The big story on Sunday was grit. This was not an easy series, traveling to the very unfriendly confines of Baum Stadium to face the #11 ranked Razorbacks. To hold Dave Van Horn’s squad to just 4 runs and 15 hits on the weekend was a tremendous accomplishment. Coming back off of a tough loss on Friday to steal the series was an even bigger mark of excellence. Hill (2-0, 2.76 ERA) got the win, while Moore (3-1, 6 S, 0.61 ERA) got credit for closing out a second straight game. The team ERA dropped to a 2.30, a new season low, with a week permitting just 6 runs over 4 games.

Apologies, Corrections and Indignation

My apology this week goes out to Drew Verhagen. The incoming recruit who is considered one of the top Junior College draft prospects in America has been stellar for Navarro College this year, despite a misleading 2-5 record. His mid-90s fastball represents just another in the line of Vanderbilt’s truly dominant power arms. I misreported that he had suffered shoulder problems in high school in Part 6 of my season preview. I read about a shoulder injury online and took it to be true; however, Verhagen had, in fact, undergone Tommy John surgery for an elbow injury that was completely unrelated to his healthy shoulder. The distinction is not one to be taken lightly, as Tommy John is a procedure with a very high success rate and for which there is limited long-term health risk for a professional prospect. While a shoulder injury might cause some concern, Verhagen is no less healthy than current Commodores Curt Casali, Navery Moore and Mark Lamm, who have each enjoyed successful recoveries from Tommy John surgery and have great professional prospects.

Meanwhile, the correction is noted from the comments section last week. I had written that Coach Tim Corbin moved back into the dugout from the 3rd base coaching box in 2009, permitting then-Assistant Coach Erik Bakich some experience waving runners around 3rd. What I didn’t know or acknowledge was that Coach Corbin had returned to on-field duties in the past two years. I was under the impression that Coach Josh Holliday was out there. I’d further note that Vanderbilt has run itself out of some innings, but this year those errors have not been coming around the third base bag, but on a very high number of runners caught stealing; the Commodores have been caught in 17 of 52 stolen base attempts, or roughly one-third of the time.

As for indignation, well, I don’t really have much actually about baseball on which to be indignant this year. So let’s talk about the argument from one poster on VandySports.com who insists that Taylor Hill is not an “SEC-caliber” starter. While Hill struggled down the stretch in 2010, a statement like that is simply ill-informed. On its face, the ignorance is reflected in the irrational bias and seeming belief that an “SEC-caliber” rotation includes, apparently, three Sonny Grays (a rotation I would certainly not turn down, but one that does not exist). Digging deeper, the poster contends that Hill throws in the mid-80s on his fastball. Apparently, the poster is unfamiliar with Hill’s wide array of pitches, that includes a four-seam fastball Hill can run up between 91 and 94 MPH. Hill complements that with a high-80s to low-90s two-seam fastball with solid sink and run, an average change up and a solid slider that Hill can spot for strikes or off the plate. While he has had one bad outing (Stanford: 3 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, HBP, 5 K) and one mediocre outing (Mississippi State: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K), if you remove those 2 games, you have impressive numbers (2-0, 25 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 6 BB, 24 K, 1.08 ERA). If you’re required to beat those numbers, or Hill’s overall 2-0, 2.76 ERA and .248 batting average against, then there aren’t too many SEC caliber pitchers in America, much less the southeast.

Weekly Honors

For more weekly honors, check out AnchorOfGold‘s Rookie of the Year-themed awards.

Best Offensive Player

Other than the 11 hit, 10 walk explosion on Tuesday, the Vanderbilt offense was relatively stagnant this week. That did not, however, make picking a weekly honoree any more easy. Against we had several worthy candidates, but there were no truly spectacular performances this week. The best single game was probably Connor Harrell’s against Tennessee Tech (2B, HR, 3 RBI), but I decided this would come down to Tony Kemp (4-12, 3 R, 3 BB, 2 HBP) and Aaron Westlake (5-14, 3 R, 2 RBI, BB, 2 HBP). Westlake’s double on Tuesday and monsterous home run on Sunday earned him the BBCOR bat of the week.

On the opposition side, I had really pegged this one even before the Arkansas series started. That Arkansas’ best hitter on the weekend (Bo Bigham, 5 H, 1 BB) made it easy with 4 errors on the weekend was just icing on the cake for Tennessee Tech’s Zach Stephenson. Though Stephenson technically went 0-3 with a walk, striking out twice, one of those strikeouts is somewhat dubious. Stephenson launched a 400 foot home run off Ziomek which was ruled a non-play because the mid-inning 90-second clock had yet to expire. That explanation was almost as ridiculous as Stephenson’s almost comical appearance at the plate. He is earnestly intense, shifting his grip as he prepares for pitches. He almost plays the role of the evil team cleanup hitter, prepared to intimidate the good guys day-after-day, but whom the heroes end up defeating in the end. Fortunately, it was that way this week as well.

Sonny Gray of the Week

For the second straight week, Grayson Garvin pitched as well as the namesake of this award, and earns the pitcher of the week honors. His 8 inning, 2 hit performance was simply masterful and was marred only by a Jim McCann home run in the 7th. At 4-1, Garvin is well on his way toward an all-SEC caliber season.

On the flip side, you had Cade Lynch, who shut down the Commodores and battled Sonny Gray punch for punch on Friday night. With 6.2 innings of 3 hit, 1 run ball, Lynch gave Arkansas the opportunity to scratch at Sonny Gray and, in combination with eventual winner DJ Baxendale, Lynch pulled out the huge game one victory.

Around the League

SEC Weekend Scoreboard

Navery Moore closed out three games on the week, earning saves on Saturday and Sunday. Photo: VUCommodores.com.

#6 South Carolina at #1 Florida (USC 2-1)
Friday: USC 9, Florida 2
Saturday: Florida 2, USC 1
Sunday: USC 4, Florida 3

#22 Auburn at Mississippi State (MSU sweeps)
Friday: MSU 7, Auburn 6
Saturday: MSU 15, Auburn 8
Sunday: MSU 5, Auburn 0


Kentucky at Alabama (Alabama sweeps)
Friday: Alabama 4, Kentucky 0
Saturday: Alabama 6, Kentucky 5
Sunday: Alabama 8, Kentucky 3

#10 LSU at Georgia (Georgia 2-1)
Friday: LSU 7, Georgia 3
Saturday: Georgia 9, LSU 5
Sunday: Georgia 3, LSU 2

Ole Miss at Tennessee (Ole Miss 2-1)
Friday: Ole Miss 6, Tennessee 1
Saturday: Tennessee 6, Ole Miss 4
Sunday: Ole Miss 8, Tennessee 0

Other Top 10 Teams:
#3 Virginia had a 5-0 week to move to 24-2 (8-1 ACC) with wins over Towson (2) and Maryland (3).
#4 Arizona State had a 3-2 week to go to 18-6 (2-1 Pac 10) with a split against #19 Cal State Fullerton and a series win against #16 Arizona.
#5 Texas had a 2-2 week to move to 17-7 (4-2 Big 12) with a win over Houston Baptist and a series loss to Oklahoma State.
#7 Florida State had a 2-2 week to go to 18-6 (6-3 ACC) with a loss to Stetson and series win over Wake Forest.
#8 Oklahoma 19-6 (2-3 Big 12) had a 2-1 week with a 2 game split with Missouri and a 21-3 drubbing of St. Gregory’s (which, I believe, is a D2 squad).
#9 Texas A&M had a 4-0 week to move to 19-5 (5-1 Big 12) with wins over Stephen F. Austin and a sweep of Kansas.

Projected Top Five (Coaches)
#1 Vanderbilt (22-3, 4-2 SEC)
#2 Virginia (24-2, 8-1 ACC)
#3 Florida (21-4, 4-2 SEC)
#4 Arizona State (18-6, 2-1 Pac 10)
#5 South Carolina (18-5, 4-2 SEC)

Warren Nolan Metrics
Simulated RPI: 8th
Nolan Power Index: 6th
Strength of Schedule: 56th

The Week Ahead

Vanderbilt tips off the week against the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks, who are struggling at 5-18 (1-2 Ohio Valley). The Skyhawks were drubbed last week, surrendering 41 runs (against 31 scored) in losing to 1 Evansville and 2 of 3 to Jacksonville State. The midweek game against Evansville was a bullpen day, with six pitchers working and each of them allowing at least 1 run. Pitching is not their forte, as their team ERA is 5.76 with a .312 batting average against. Of their five pitchers who have thrown more than 11 innings, three have ERAs over 6.00 (Alex Boshers, Alec Mills and Jarrell Rodgers). Vanderbilt is likely to see Mills (1-3, 7.40 ERA) start on Tuesday. At the plate, they are led by Phil Sorenson (.359, HR, 14 RBI) and Cody Terry (.337, HR, 17 RBI).

The Skyhawks average 5.6 runs per game and yield 7.5. The visit will hurt the RPI, even with a win, as they come in in the 230 range on the spectrum, having lost 2 of their last 10. Expect Vanderbilt to start either TJ Pecoraro or Jack Armstrong, with Ziomek, Selman and, perhaps, Kolinsky due for relief action.

For the weekend, the Dores travel back west again to Auburn to face the struggling Tigers. Auburn was ranked the last two weeks, but figures to drop out after an 0-4 week featuring a loss to Jacksonville State and a sweep at the hands of the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. The Tigers have an OK 14-10 record, but are just 2-4 in the SEC now. They average 6.1 runs per game, while allowing 5.5 and have an 18 RPI and 73 NPI against the 4th toughest schedule in the nation.

The holdover weekend rotation for the Tigers is Cory Luckie (1-1, 5.34), Will Irvine (3-1, 6.12) and Derek Varnadore (3-1, 3.60). Irvine’s Saturday spot may be in trouble, as he was lit up for 7 runs while recording only 2 outs in Starkville this week. But the Tigers 4th starter, Slade Smith (1-0, 7.71) fared little better in relief of Irvine.

At the plate, Auburn is led by Casey McElroy (.376, 4 HR, 22 RBI), Dan Gamache (.333, 2 HR, 20 RBI), Wes Gilmer (.325, 13 RBI) and Justin Hargett (.320, 15 RBI). As a team, they bat .301, but have proven strikeout prone (175) and have little in the way of basepath speed (just 19 of 35 on the year).

Vanderbilt should continue to counter with a weekend mix of Gray, Garvin and Hill.

Reading List

Knoxville News SentinelIncoming Recruit Pfeifer Breaks TN State Record for Wins

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 (including Drew Fann’s weekly blog)

Feedback

Let me know what you think, as I always appreciate feedback (even if just to note a typo). You can comment below, share this article on Twitter or Facebook. And remember to follow me on Twitter (my personal or this website’s feeds).

  1. March 28th, 2011 at 15:41 | #1

    I hope the lack of indignation becomes a trend for the season! I had too much of it during the other round ball’s season…

  2. admin
    March 28th, 2011 at 17:14 | #2

    @Christine
    Come now, Steeni, I’ll always find a way to get indignant about something!

  3. VandyImport
    March 29th, 2011 at 00:42 | #3

    OK, I have got to find one of those Navery Moore red-white-and-blue Vanderbilt hats now. Especially since my St Patricks VU hat has a curse on it and will have to be burned down…

  4. admin
    March 29th, 2011 at 00:53 | #4

    @VandyImport
    Well, little known fact is that this is not only a pro-Vandy and pro-science blog… it’s also a pro-arson blog.

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