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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Three up, three down: VandyBoys swept again

A search for hope as the Commodores continued to slide.
The+VandyBoys+huddling+before+their+game+on+May+12%2C+2023+%28Vanderbilt+Athletics%29.
Vanderbilt Athletics
The VandyBoys huddling before their game on May 12, 2023 (Vanderbilt Athletics).

Well, that was ugly.

The VandyBoys played probably their worst series of the season (second perhaps only to the Tennessee sweep) this weekend, losing all three games against the No. 7 Florida Gators in Gainesville. After a seven-inning, 10-0 beatdown on Friday, the Commodores lost on Saturday and Sunday 6-2. They subsequently dropped seven spots in the D1Baseball rankings to No. 12. This series did not yield a tremendous amount of hope for Vanderbilt fans with just one week left in the regular season.

With that being said, let’s look for some anyway. I’m a White Sox fan, so this sort of defiant optimism comes natural to me. But more relevantly, the VandyBoys will still probably be hosting a NCAA Regional on the back of how well this season started. Tim Corbin’s crew are not out of it yet. So as it’s time to start looking forward to June, I insist on bringing you a few bright spots.

Three up.

The bullpen looks better

While it may seem odd to compliment a pitching staff that’s allowed 30 runs in its last four games, the bullpen did keep the Commodores alive for long stretches. As drained as the staff is now, it’s going to get worse at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama and into the Regionals. Corbin and pitching coach Scott Brown are looking for reliable middle-tier options, and they may have found a few recently.

Thomas Schultz pitched consecutive days on Saturday and Sunday, allowing one run in 2.2 innings. He also threw a scoreless one-two-three sixth inning against Louisville on Tuesday. These regular appearances with Schultz’s ERA dipping down to 4.30 may indicate a larger role for the senior in the coming weeks.

Grayson Moore has also been good, keeping Vanderbilt alive with two scoreless innings on Saturday to keep his ERA under 4. Back on Tuesday, David Horn threw three scoreless extra innings on 56 pitches to keep Vanderbilt alive despite being seemingly the last name out of the bullpen and having missed most of the season to injury. 

While the starting situation may be deteriorating, Vanderbilt now has five or six very solid arms out of the bullpen. While they may need to cobble together more innings as the schedule adds up in the postseason, don’t put it past the Schultzes and Moores of the staff to win the VandyBoys some games or at least to give the offense a chance.

Davis Diaz is back

As we said last week, Davis Diaz continuing to bat second given his April struggles raised some eyebrows. However, he had a very good series against Alabama and a passable one against Florida when nobody else could touch the Gators’ pitching. Diaz contributed 2 hits, 3 walks, 1 run scored and 1 batted in.

If you add in Diaz’s four-RBI game against Louisville with a homer, the sophomore third baseman is on one of his better stretches of the season. While his hitting stats over the season still lag behind most of the starting lineup, continued production from Diaz will be crucial for Vanderbilt’s success going forward.

Arkansas freeroll?

For their final regular season series, the Commodores will welcome No. 2 Arkansas to Hawkins Field. The Razorbacks are hot. They lead the SEC West by 1.5 games, just won a series against South Carolina and could be the only team in a crowded SEC to reach 20 league wins. Arkansas is 19-8 with Florida a game behind in the race for the No. 1 seed in Hoover.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, is ranked No. 12 but will still probably be one of the top four seeds at the SEC Tournament. They’ve certainly dropped a lot recently, but I’m not convinced that any result against Arkansas would put a host Regional in jeopardy. There’s a lot of parity amongst the top sixteen teams in the country right now, but nobody super threatening behind them.

Teams like No. 17 Dallas Baptist or No. 21 Virginia may be in play but have both played much easier schedules than Vanderbilt. The Commodores already beat No. 20 Maryland and swept No. 19 Kentucky, so they should have the tiebreaker over both of them. Tennessee is No. 18, but they would probably have to sweep No. 13 South Carolina to take Vanderbilt’s spot, and such a result would likely knock the Gamecocks out before it would the Commodores. The Selection Committee really doesn’t pay much attention to Hoover anyway. 

Of course, Vanderbilt can avoid all the scoreboard-watching by just putting up a win or two against Arkansas. A won series or a sweep could even bring them back into top-eight national seed contention. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Corbin using this series to recuperate knowing that the more important games are coming later.

Three down.

Starting pitchers get torched

Refocusing on the baseball we just witnessed, we unfortunately have to begin with the starting pitching staff’s calamitous outings. Putting aside the health questions for now, the pitchers who started all three games this weekend were a rough watch. Patrick Reilly got through four innings but took a beating, allowing eight earned runs on 10 hits to knock the Commodores out of Friday’s opener. The recently struggling Devin Futrell got touched up as well, taken for five runs in 4.1 innings of work. Greysen Carter, who’s started plenty of midweeks this year, allowed three runs on two hits and three walks before being bounced with just one out in the first inning.

While this wasn’t Plan A for the pitching rotation, Reilly and Carter were signed to Vanderbilt to be reliable SEC starters as well. As Tim Corbin said when a depleted staff allowed 10 runs to Indiana State, “They’re on scholarship too, and they’re expected to produce.” 

Reilly and Carter are going to be relied upon for big spots this June. Even when Carter Holton and Hunter Owen can’t be there, the potential starters must carry their weight.

Slowdown for the stars

The VandyBoys plated just four runs on 15 hits against the Gators’ pitching. The lineup-leading stars that have been central to Vanderbilt’s offensive success simply didn’t produce this weekend. Enrique Bradfield Jr. was 1-for-10 with just one walk and no runs scored. He was also thrown out on his only stolen base attempt. RJ Schreck was 1-for-10 as well with a single. Parker Noland moved up in the order and was only 2-for-11. Chris Maldonado went 1-for-7 after sitting out Friday.

There were more shakeups in the lineup as Corbin did a bit of experimenting, and I would expect to see some of those moves again against Arkansas. Calvin Hewett got two starts, as did Alan Espinal. However, while the spots at the bottom get filled in, the leaders at the top of the order need to bounce back.

Health questions

The elephant in the room is that Vanderbilt’s main starting rotation that started the season so well is sitting on the shelf. Holton has been week-to-week since he missed his start against Missouri in early April and is out again now. If he doesn’t pitch against Arkansas (and I wouldn’t expect him to), Corbin will probably save his ace for a return in the Regional. That timeline would mean coming back from an injury with the season potentially on the line, but there doesn’t seem to be a better solution.

After Owen pitched a gem against Alabama, he missed his start this weekend with a shoulder issue that will keep him out for as long as Holton, if not longer. Freshman Andrew Dutkanych IV was believed to be “week-to-week” several weeks ago and has been missing in action since. Corbin is famously opaque about these sorts of matters, as there’s no reason to tell Arkansas or the rest of Vanderbilt’s future opponents who they’ll have to face. But unfortunately for Vanderbilt fans, the solutions for the Commodores’ pitching staff are not popping up as quickly as the questions are. We may not even know the status of some of these pitchers until the Regional.

The situation is exacerbated by the midweek on Tuesday, May 16, against Middle Tennessee State, which will likely force Vanderbilt into a similar emergency pitching plan that it used in the Indiana State humiliation. Worse yet, the Arkansas series starts on Thursday, May 18: ahead of the SEC Tournament. 

It’s certainly time for pitchers to chip in on short rest as the coming weeks will require an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to keep the Commodores afloat. But if they can get through that at all rejuvenated or back to full health, we know that this Vanderbilt team has potential. That’s where my optimism comes from.

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About the Contributor
Frankie Sheehy
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
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