After a disappointing Thursday night loss to open its series against No. 12 Florida, Vanderbilt scratched its way to a 2-0 Game 2 win on Friday. The Commodores (22-14, 7-7 SEC) rode star pitcher Kyle Wright and scattered 11 hits in one of their cleanest performances of conference play. Here are three takeaways from the win.
Complete-game gem a major step forward for Wright
Starting pitcher Kyle Wright’s up-and-down season has been well chronicled. The junior righty entered Friday’s game with a 4.81 ERA, but against Florida he showed the talent that’s made him a consensus high first-round pick in the upcoming MLB draft.
Wright rolled through the game, baffling Florida’s hitters while using few pitches to do so in a virtuoso complete-game, shutout performance. With a career-high 13 strikeouts, no walks, only three hits allowed and a whopping 73 of his 99 pitches thrown for strikes, Wright dominated a Gator lineup that racked up 17 hits and 10 runs the night before. With Patrick Raby and Drake Fellows looking good as the Commodores’ first and third starters, respectively, Vanderbilt still has the potential to contend for the SEC East title if Wright continues to pitch like he did Friday.
“He was efficient with his pitches. He executed everything that he wanted to throw, he executed everything that [pitching coach Scott Brown] asked him to throw,” head coach Tim Corbin said. “He was just on point. That’s him. I’ve fielded a lot of questions about him; there’s nothing wrong with Kyle Wright. It’s not easy to be that targeted guy; I don’t care who you are or where you are. … That’s leadership.”
Bunting improvement results in game-winning run
Early in the year, bunting was a problem for Corbin’s squad. The Commodores struggled to consistently bunt runners over to third base, and they couldn’t always rely on a sacrifice bunt when needed. Between Thursday’s and Friday’s games, however, Vanderbilt laid down no fewer than four excellent bunts. Some of those played key roles in getting runs on the board in a pair of close games. Will Toffey bunted for a base hit in the sixth inning of Friday’s win, but the big bunt came an inning earlier. Connor Kaiser successfully executed a suicide squeeze to bring home Jason Delay, putting the ‘Dores up 1-0 against Florida’s Brady Singer, who carried an imposing 1.60 ERA into Friday’s game.
“I just think that the longer you go and the more you work on it almost every day, it becomes part of their routine, and you start doing it against velocity and personalities of pitches, it’s not easy to do,” Corbin said. “It’s just gotten better with time and concentration. … And [Kaiser] had to bunt a tough pitch, too; it was away from him.”
Big game for Delay after bad Thursday night
After accounting for two passed balls and a 1-for-4 day at the plate Thursday, Delay made up for it Friday. The senior catcher went 3-for-4 and scored both of Vanderbilt’s runs, all while working with Wright to shut down Florida’s offense. He even came home to score the Commodores’ first run of the game on Kaiser’s aforementioned squeeze. Batting .283 on the season, Delay’s had a good overall year for the ‘Dores. But continued success as a hitter could help bolster a Vanderbilt lineup that lacks elite depth. As strong a season as Singer has had, Vanderbilt got 11 hits of of him in eight innings. Delay played a big role in that.
“[Hitting coach] D.J. [Svihlik] talked to all of us before the game, going into it. We didn’t really have one plan for everyone, it was kind of an individualized thing,” Delay said. “For me, I was just trying to see the ball well, kind of back off the plate, because [Singer]’s got that sinker that he wants to run inside.”