Before welcoming the University of Kentucky to Hawkins Field, I spoke with Glenn Logan, who covers baseball for A Sea of Blue to get to know his team a little better.
Andrew: Like pretty much everyone in the SEC at the moment, you guys are 3-3 in conference, with two close losses to Alabama, two wins over a frighteningly good South Carolina team, and your bats exploded for 13 runs in the win over the Cocks' Friday night starter, Jordan Montgomery. Given that South Carolina was literally shutting out every team they faced coming into SEC play, just how good is this Kentucky lineup?
Glenn: The Bat Cats hit the ball really, really well, and really, really far. A.J. Reed and Austin Cousino are hitting everybody's pitching right now, and no pitcher can relish taking the mound aginst the batting machine that is Kentucky at the moment.
A: When reviewing your schedule, I came across a few notable non-South Carolina games:
3/8 v Ball State 24-1
3/9 v Ball State 26-3
What Faustian bargain allowed for back to back 20+ run efforts? Do you keep Jobu's cup filled with rum, or is there some other form of sorcery which produced this? Seriously... back to back 20+ run efforts???
G: Yeah, Kentucky can really hit, and when they get it going, they can bat around on you and put up some numbers. In that first 20+ run game, A.J. Reed homered to lead off the 2nd inning, and grounded out to end it after six runs scored. They had two six-run innings in that game, one four, one three, and then assorted others. It was an offensive tour-de-force.
In the second game, it was very similar. Kentucky batted around in the 6th, homered twice, and then did it again in the seventh for nine runs. To be fair, Ball State's pitching was having a bad day; UK batsmen got hit by no less than eight pitches.
A: Living in Baton Rouge, I saw A.J. Reed pitch and DH in a game last year. He didn't have his best effort, but his numbers have been strong, particularly this year. Last I checked, he's hitting .378 with 5 2Bs, 1 3B, and 9 HRs, and he's 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA on the mound. Just how good is this guy? As he's a Junior, does he project better as a hitter or a pitcher on the next level? Also, as Vandy hasn't had a top 2-way player in recent memory, are you pro 2-way players, or do you think he'd even be more monstrous from the plate if he focused exclusively on hitting? (Or from the mound if he projects better as a pitcher?)
G: Honestly, giving the way he's hitting the ball and the premium MLB places on power, I'd say he's going to be hitting rather than pitching. But he's our go-to left-hand starter, and nobody on the squad has pitched more innings. Gary Henderson usually likes to go to his bullpen early and often, but both Kentucky main starters have been piling up the innings pitched this season.
Let's just put it this way: The kid is a winner. I don't know if he'd be a better hitter if he focused on it or not, but he's just a competitor and wants to win any way he can. There's no doubt he's Kentucky's best 2-way player in recent memory, and probably one of the best in the SEC in a while.
A: Back to A.J. Reed... What's it like to have your leading power hitter have more than 2 HRs? *We'd honestly love to know.
G: Heh. That's really been a bugaboo for Vandy this season, hasn't it? I want to know what it's like to have a pitching staff with a sub-2 run ERA and an opposing batting average of .179. 81 strikeouts where the batter didn't swing? Really? Who ya'll been pitching to, middle schoolers?
A: There are three guys (Micheal Thomas, Austin Cousino, and the aforementioned A.J. Reed) who are absolutely tearing the cover off the ball this season. Have they all been in the midst of a heater, or are they legitimately frightening at the plate? Further, are there any other hitters you think are equally or more talented, but have not been producing the crazy numbers (due to slumping, injury, etc.) of the three mentioned yet?
G: A little of both, I think. They've been hot, and Thomas has really heated up lately. Reed just started out on fire and hasn't even remotely slowed down. True Freshman Javon Shelby is a kid that is capable of better than his current lowly .214. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him improve. Same with Matt Reida, although his ceiling is a little lower, maybe .275 or so.
A: Your weekend starters all have sub 3.00 ERAs. How do you think they stack up against our power trio of Tyler Beede, Jared Miller, and Tyler Ferguson?
G: Not bad. I think the biggest thing for them is to avoid giving up the long ball, which has been a problem for Kentucky this season, although home run hitting hasn't exactly been a Commodore strength. I worry a lot more about Vanderbilt's defense finding ways to shut down UK's hitting than I do about Vandy's hitting racking up 5-run innings.
A: You've got 4 guys in your bullpen with sub 2.00 ERAs, but only one save this season (by Logan Salow). Do you have a closer, or are you more of a bullpen by committee team? Also, which bullpen pitchers should we be worried about?
G: Gary Henderson has always been more of a committee guy. This year, our left-hand relief pitching is really young. Right-hand relievers are more experienced, but maybe not as talented as our lefties.
A: What's your prediction for how this series will play out?
G: I think it's likely to be split. Since it's at Vanderbilt, I expect you guys to win 2-1. Kentucky's pitching against a top-flight SEC squad has been suspect on the road, and they are prone to fielding mistakes. Unless Vandy's pitching lets them down, which could happen with Kentucky's power, it should be plenty to get a series win at home.
A: At Anchor of Gold, we like to give our players ridiculous, yet apt, nicknames. Well, I do anyway (i.e.: Bryan "The Aluminum Foil" Reynolds and Dansby "The Mansby" Swanson). Any Kentucky players with amusing nicknames? If not, come up with one right now.
G: I don't really have any, but if I had to come up with one, I guess it would have to be A.J. "Up Up And Away" Reed. :-)
A: Finally, Kentucky is the state that produces bourbon. Sweet, sweet bourbon. Having lived there for some time, what's the best non-Pappy Van Winkle bourbon your state produces?
G: Well, Pappy isn't my favorite, anyway. I prefer the much more affordable Four Roses Single Barrel - the regular, not the barrel strength, and not the small batch. It weighs in at a much more reasonable $30 per bottle at discount liquor stores, and at 101 proof it carries the wonderful depth of flavor and strong bouquet that only a high-proof bourbon can deliver. Never damage it even with ice, serve neat at room temperature and savor like a fine cognac. It has a wonderful, gentle smoothness for a high-proof bourbon and really pairs well with chocolate or a nice Cohiba.