Before last night even started, the world knew LHP Philip Pfeifer was going to start game 2 for Vanderbilt, but no one had a clue who UVA coach Brian O'Connor would counter with. Most believed O'Connor would choose LHP Nathan Kirby, a supplemental first round pick in this year's draft who has struggled to recover from a lat injury that occured approximately 9 weeks ago. While Kirby may still see action today, it will be out of the pen. Of course, Kirby, while talented, has only pitched once in 9 weeks, and that was a 2 and 2/3 inning outing in which he was shelled by Florida - giving up 4 runs on 4 hits, while striking out only one. In addition, that was on June 19th, and starting someone who's not fully recovered from an injury on short rest... no bueno. If not Kirby, many baseball analysts assumed it would be LHP Brandon Waddell on even shorter rest (Waddell pitched 5 innings Saturday in the win over Florida that got UVA to the CWS Finals, and let up 4 runs), but that made even less sense. I assumed it would be closer Josh Sborz, but he also pitched Saturday night against UF (4 scoreless innings).
While there's basically a 100% chance all those arms will be available in the bullpen, O'Connor has chosen last night's starting center fielder and lead-off hitter Adam Haseley to start tonight's elimination game.
Haseley, who has good speed on the mound (89-91mph fastball) and the base paths (home to first in 6.5 seconds) is an unlikely candidate to start a College World Series game - let alone a Game 2 elimination game. The 6'1" 195lb freshman lefty was a Perfect Game 3rd Team All American and a member of the 2013 U18 National team, which won the championship in Taiwan - Haseley led that team in hitting. He's a much better prospect as a hitter than pitcher, but he can throw in the low 90s from the left hand side, and that's often enough to get teams to at least give you a look on the mound. On the year, he's 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 10 appearances (4 starts) with just 23 and 2/3 IP. He's thrown the 9th most innings on the Virginia pitching staff this year (a little over 21 innings fewer that last night's two-way reliever Kevin Doherty, who looked overmatched from pitch #1). On the one hand, his arm is likely fresh, as it's been about a month since he's pitched in a game, and he's never thrown more than 4 and 2/3 innings on the year. The other hand is rhetorical.
Haseley's last start came on May 23rd in the ACC Tournament against NC State. Haseley took the loss on the day, as he went 4 and 2/3 IP, but only gave up 3 hits and 2 runs, while striking out 1 and walking 2. Though tagged with the loss, Haseley kept them in the game. NC State would get 8 more runs against the UVA pen that day.
Though it might seem like a head-scratcher of a move, pitching depth was a major concern for the Hoos coming into the Finals. This revealed itself last night, as well. As soon as starter Connor Jones - who had electric stuff and battled toe-to-toe with Carson Fulmer for the bulk of 6 innings last night - ran out of gas, rather than go to someone warming up in the bullpen, Coach O'Connor moved his left fielder, Kevin Doherty, to the mound.
In short, this is the classic "Johnny Wholestaff" entire bullpen strategy coaches often resort to when they've run out of starting pitching. LSU had to do it against TCU, and to a lesser extent, Florida chose to do that this Saturday against Virginia. Both teams lost, of course.
If Haseley falters early, look for Kirby, Waddell, and Sborz in the bullpen. Tired or not, they'll pretty much demand O'Connor gives them the ball if Vanderbilt jumps out to an early lead.
Let's go ahead and knock him back to center field early.