Rocker’s rough start costs Vandy Boys sweep of Tennessee


Photo by Mattigan Kelly

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

On a weekend in which the Vanderbilt Commodores dominated the Tennessee Volunteers, three innings made the difference between a sweep and a two-win split series.

In the first, second and fourth innings, Pitcher Kumar Rocker let two-strike counts turn into hits and RBIs, and Commodore infielders let ground balls turn into baserunners and runs. The Volunteers scored three runs in the first inning, two more in the second and another two in the fourth as they beat the Commodores 7-6 to avoid the three-game sweep.

The visitors did not score another run for the rest of the game, but those seven runs, including six earned by Rocker, were enough to stifle the Commodores. Those early inning struggles also call into question the freshman Rocker’s ability to handle the Sunday starter role so early in his career.

“Well, he wasn’t missing barrels,” Head Coach Tim Corbin said when asked about what was missing in Rocker’s game. “Two-strike hits in the first few hitters, and we were sloppy behind him. We didn’t help him. I saw those first two innings as the difference in the game.”

In four starts and seven total appearances, Rocker has a 2-3 record with a 6.00 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 26 strikeouts and a .314 opposing batting average. All of those numbers are the worst on the team among the regular weekend starters (Drake Fellows and Patrick Raby).

Meanwhile, sophomore Mason Hickman has been pitching lights-out as a midweek starter as of late, posting a 1.50 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 41 strikeouts and a .173 opposing batting average through two starts and eight appearances.

According to Corbin, despite the numbers, there isn’t a discussion to be had about moving Hickman to the Sunday starting role.

“We’ve got to win Tuesdays too,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to get better.”

While losing any game stings, perhaps it’s more productive to look at what the Commodores managed to do in the seven straight games they won prior to Sunday’s loss. During the streak, which included a sweep of Florida, two mid-week wins at First Tennessee Park and two wins over the Volunteers at Hawkins Field, Vanderbilt outscored opponents by a total score of 66-13.

In just this past week alone, Vanderbilt batted .340 and hit eight home runs in four games, including Sunday’s loss. In addition, Vanderbilt’s bullpen was solid in the weekend series, as the relievers secured the wins on Friday and Saturday and kept the Commodores in it on Sunday with a flawless performance.

Vanderbilt’s depth also proved to be useful on the weekend as Jayson Gonzalez filled in admirably for Austin Martin at third base for the first two games of the series, knocking five hits and contributing two RBIs.

Despite all of that, the Commodores will finish the weekend on a sour note, and that’s the feeling the Commodores will take into a midweek game against Western Kentucky on Tuesday followed by a weekend series on the road against another top-ranked team in the Georgia Bulldogs.

And even if Rocker is the guy on the mound in a week in Athens, the Commodores know they have to improve all around if they want to claim a series on the road against another elite team.

“It sucks we couldn’t finish the last one, but a series win is a series win,” said Catcher Philip Clarke.