For 32 straight innings, Vanderbilt's pitching would have made Orel Hershiser proud. The Commodores (19-2, 2-1 SEC) racked up three straight shutout wins this week before their hurlers ran into trouble, posting a 3-1 record and a series win over Mississippi State in the team's SEC opener.
Vandy's pitching was nearly untouchable for the first three games of the week, including a two-hit shutout of Purdue in the team's final tuneup before league play started. Their weekend series continued the trend, holding Mississippi State scoreless for the first 19 innings of play. Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin limited the Bulldogs to just seven hits in the first two games as the 'Dores cruised to a pair of early victories.
A sweep looked likely as Vandy jumped out to a 6-1 lead early against MSU in Sunday's finale, but the Bulldogs exploded with a five-run eighth inning that exposed some of the team's flaws in the bullpen. Despite threatening in the final two innings, the 'Dores were unable to come back this time, leading to their first defeat in 13 games and giving Florida an early edge in the SEC East. The Gators swept a huge series in Baton Rouge this weekend, taking three games against the #7 ranked Tigers at LSU.
Game 0: Vanderbilt 9, Purdue 0: Kevin Ziomek picked up his first win as a Commodore with five shutout innings and Vandy's bullpen took care of the rest, including 2.2 scoreless, hitless frames from T.J. Pecoraro. Jack Armstrong got into the mix as well, striking out the side in his first appearance of the year. In true Jack fashion, he also walked and plunked a batter - but since we haven't heard any reports of a Purdue batter dying at Hawkins Field this week, we'll presume that control issue wasn't with his fastball. Jason Esposito hit his first dinger of the year and had four RBI in the win.
Game 1: Vanderbilt 10, Mississippi State 0: Sonny Gray's draft stock got another boost Friday night, as the junior threw 7.1 strong innings to shut down the Bulldogs and improve his record to 5-0 in five starts this season. Gray allowed only four hits and struck out 10 batters to pick up the win, but also walked four (including two wild pitches and two hit batsmen) in the outing. Seven different Commodores had RBIs in the rout.
Game 2: Vanderbilt 4, Mississippi State 0: Grayson Garvin had his best outing as a Commodore Saturday afternoon, allowing only two hits in seven innings of work to earn his third win of the season. Curt Casali had a pair of RBIs in the win.
Game 3: Mississippi State 9, Vanderbilt 8: Vandy's scoreless innings streak came to an end in the second inning, but the 'Dores still seemed in control of this one throughout the game, posting leads of 6-1 and 8-4 as the game wore on. Corey Williams continued an up and down road to recovery out of the bullpen with a solid, but unspectacular long relief showing. Lapses from Will Clinard and Navery Moore were more surprising, as both allowed several runners to reach base, leading to the MSU comeback. Moore got saddled with the loss, while Clinard was tagged with two earned runs in just .1 innings recorded. Aaron Westlake's third home run of the season was a bright spot for the Commodore offense, who couldn't pull out another miracle ending at Hawkins Field this time around.
AoG's prestigious awards, after the jump:
The Henry Rowengartner Hot-Ice Excellence in Pitching Award Goes to...
Grayson Garvin. Garvin lowered his ERA to 2.78 on the season and picked up his third win on the strength of a seven-inning, six-strikeout performance where only four Bulldog hitters reached base. Garvin rounded into form for his SEC opener, rebounding strongly from last week's outing where he was tagged for seven runs (three earned) against Illinois-Chicago. He'll be an important cog in Vandy's pitching machine, especially given the recent shakiness of Taylor Hill and the continuing rehab of Jack Armstrong. Sonny Gray and Kevin Ziomek also deserve recognition for their outstanding performances on the mound this week, combining for over 12 innings of shutout ball.
The Clu Haywood "How's your wife and my kids?" Destroyer of Pitchers Award Goes to...
Curt Casali. Not only did Casali bat .417 with six RBI in three games this week, but he was also behind the plate for all three Vandy shutouts this week. This defensive distinction set him apart from guys like Aaron Westlake, Jason Esposito, and Anthony Gomez, who all had strong performances this week. If we were keeping hockey statistics for the Vandy baseball team, Casali's +/- would be off the charts after this weekend, with the team leading 23-0 with him in the lineup and losing 8-9 without his presence. And that's your AoG meaningless stat of the week.
So, there's your recap. Award winners can pick up their custom-made AoG plaques at our headquarters located in a world where basketball has been banned from television everywhere and the only people we talk to are Pitt fans. Vanderbilt should have been able to sweep the Bulldogs, but a breakdown in the bullpen cost them an opportunity to maintain their claim as the best team in the country this week. Hopefully, it will serve as a learning point for these Commodores, as they'll have a stiff test in last week's #9 team Arkansas on the road this weekend. The Razorbacks will be looking to rebound from a series loss against Auburn, who took two-of-three from the 'Hogs in a SEC West battle.
vs. Tennessee Tech, March 22
at #9 (as of 11am) Arkansas