Vanderbilt (18-11, 4-5) traveled up to No.16 Kentucky to take on the SEC East’s first-place team this past weekend and dropped two out of three. The Commodores avoided the sweep on Sunday, but Kentucky continues to hold the lead in the division. Currently in fifth place, Vanderbilt will need to rebound to make some moves in conference.
Jeren Kendall stays aggressive at the plate
After an 0-for-4 Friday night in which he struck out twice, Kendall rebounded Saturday, knocking in two home runs in the last two innings and contributing all the RBIs for the game. While Vanderbilt lost 7-4, his offensive output provided a lone highlight in a game that was 7-0 heading into the eighth inning. He followed up that performance with a double, run, stolen base and two walks on Sunday, in addition to an impressive throw from center field to nab a runner heading for third base. His batting average is now up to .325 and he leads the SEC with 10 home runs, a very impressive mark in the leadoff spot.
Julian Infante continues to hit
Entering the series, Julian Infante led the team with an impressive .356 batting average. He left it with a .368 average, adding a home run and a double, as part of a six-hit series. That number also includes a single in the Saturday game that went off the 40-foot blue wall in right-center field, which would have been a home run at almost any other park in the country. He’s continuing to impress offensively in his first season as a full time starter.
Toffey rebounds big on Sunday
After an 0-for-8 start to the series with just one walk, Will Toffey entered Sunday with a batting average just a few ticks above .300, well below his .326 mark heading into Friday. However, he clawed out of that mini-slump Sunday, reaching base in all five plate appearances. He tacked on three singles, one of which hit near the big blue wall, before launching the go-ahead home run with one on in the seventh inning. This effort neutralized the Friday and Saturday struggles, providing the necessary catalyst to avoid a series sweep.
Starting pitching switch doesn’t help
Head coach Tim Corbin may have surprised fans and Kentucky by switching around Kyle Wright and Patrick Raby in the pitching rotation. Wright was bumped to the Saturday spot, while Raby, who entered the series at 4-1 with a 1.40 ERA, started Friday. However, Raby got rocked, allowing seven runs (six earned) over five innings, raising his ERA up over a point to 2.47. Wright’s first Saturday start of the season didn’t go any better, as he allowed seven earned runs over five innings while walking four batters. His ERA is up to 5.59, well above last year’s (3.09), and he has just two quality starts this season. Corbin may look again to switch up the rotation given the struggles this past weekend.
In the first two games, the Commodores fell behind 7-0 by the fifth innings. While the starting pitching from Raby and Wright didn’t provide much to work with, the lack of hitting from the team also didn’t help. Vanderbilt didn’t score until the sixth and eighth innings of the first two games, respectively, making it difficult for any comeback. Although Kendall brought Vanderbilt within three runs of Kentucky in Saturday’s game, it was much too late for any real chance. Kentucky starters Sean Hjelle and Zach Logue kept Vanderbilt in check for much of their starts.
It only gets harder from here
After this series against No. 16 Kentucky, the Commodores will head out to No. 11 South Carolina, followed by a home series with No. 8 Florida. Vanderbilt has already faced ranked teams in Ole Miss and Texas A&M and currently has a losing record in the SEC. These six games could be crucial to the season, and at least one series win seems necessary. The Commodores have the opportunity to move up in the SEC East if they’re able to pull together some wins over these next two weekends.