Friday, February 27, 2009

Pre-Vermont baseball tidbits

By Barca Blog - As the Commodore baseball team (2-3) gets ready for their weekend series with Vermont starting tonight at 6 p.m. CT, here are some notes following Wednesday’s 10-7 win over Western Kentucky.

McClure makes first start

Sophomore shortstop Alex McClure had a solid first start as a Commodore Wednesday. Known for his defensive abilities, McClure also produced at the plate, going 2-for-3 with two runs. The Walters State transfer helped spark VU’s six-run fourth inning with a text-book bunt single to load the bases.

“I wanted to give him a chance,” said head coach Tim Corbin. “I like what he did. He hit one ball right on the screws and got out, but then he dropped a nice drag bunt, and also got a bloop hit after that. I thought he had a good game. He’s a good player and deserves playing time.

Gray looks good

Highly touted freshman pitcher Sonny Gray has been impressive out of the bullpen so far.

“He’s just got that competitive mindset,” Corbin told the press after Gray notched his first career save Wednesday.

In three appearances, Gray’s yet to allow a run (and only one runner has reached third). He’s struck out five in five innings while walking just one. He’s been nails in pressure situations. Look no further than his first outing at No. 5 Stanford last Friday, where he held the Cardinal scoreless for three innings in a tie ballgame.

“Sonny’s been doing a great job,” said junior Brian Harris. “He throws hard but the most important thing is that he keeps it around the zone making it tough to hit. We all have confidence in him.”

Harris jumpstarts offense

Harris has made the most of his opportunity as an everyday starter after serving in a reserve role his first three years. Through five games, he's done everything you could ask for in the leadoff spot.

According to this week’s official notes:

Harris leads the team with a .438 batting average and seven RBI through five games. The Nashville native has a knack for getting on base with five walks and has also been hit three times leading to a .625 on-base percentage. As the leadoff hitter he is also perfect with four stolen bases in four attempts while also playing a steady infield at either short or second base.

“He’s done a nice job and has been the table setter for our team in scoring runs and stealing bases,” Corbin said. “It’s his time to play now and he’s playing like he’s been starting for three years.”

All about patience

With so many question marks in the lineup entering the season, early signs seem to indicate that the entire Commodore batting order will be a tough out for opposing pitchers. Plate patience has played a key role in the Commodore offense that's averaging seven runs a game.

“Everyone seems to work the pitcher pretty well,” said Corbin. “I don’t really see freebies 1 through 9. Every time I see a hitter up there I feel good about what’s about to happen. I like our offensive team. I think we’re capable of scoring runs.”

Vanderbilt’s also drawing about five walks per game including nine on Wednesday, the most since earning 10 against Louisville on March 4th last year.

“Throughout the lineup we’re willing to see a couple of pitches first as opposed to jumping on the first one to really make the pitchers work,” said sophomore Curt Casali. “I think that’s why we’re scoring so many runs.”

Different number, Same response

You might have noticed Casali wearing a different number Wednesday (39 instead of 9). Apparently, it didn’t affect him. He continued his offensive surge with a bases clearing double in the fourth which broke open the WKU game.

“They just didn’t order a No. 9 for the white jersey,” Casali remarked. “It doesn’t mean anything. Hopefully I’ll get No. 9 back by the weekend.”

On the year, Casali leads the team in hits (7), homeruns (2), total bases (15) and slugging (.714).

Rough beginning for Hayes

After a successful sophomore year (3.51 ERA in 41 IP with 53 Ks), reliever Drew Hayes has struggled to begin 2009. In three appearances, he’s 0-1 with a 12.00 ERA in three innings of work.

“It looks like Drew’s breaking ball is flat because people are getting good swings on it,” said Corbin. “He had a great fall and I expect at some point he’s going to flip the switch here. He’s getting hit harder than he should in my opinion. He’s got to get more angle to his fastball and more angle to his breaking ball, too. It’s very horizontal right now.”

Closing out the name of the game

Vanderbilt was either tied or held the lead in the eighth inning of all four games out West but ended up losing three of four. Don’t think this stat was lost in the locker room prior to Wednesday’s win.

“It’s been a big point of emphasis,” said Harris. “We need to throw strikes, put the ball in play, and then make routine plays. It’s kind of cost us in the late innings in the past couple of games. We need to make the routine plays and do the things we’re supposed to do.”

The Commodores were tested again after the Hilltoppers scored three runs in the seventh to cut the margin to 10-7. Behind Richie Goodenow and Gray, Vanderbilt’s young squad buckled down to earn the win.

“Even though the record doesn’t show it, I think we’re playing some good baseball,” Harris added. “We just need to be able to close out games in the ninth and I think we’ll be fine. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.”

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