SEC Baseball Report: Vols shake up rotation before Arkansas series

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, April 13, 2023
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello, left, talks with pitcher Kirby Connell before an NCAA college baseball super regional game against Notre Dame, June 11, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Randy Sartin)
Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello, left, talks with pitcher Kirby Connell before an NCAA college baseball super regional game against Notre Dame, June 11, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Randy Sartin)

Tennessee has lost as many SEC series through four weeks as it did the previous two seasons combined. 

The 12th-ranked Volunteers (23-10) will bring a 5-7 conference record to No. 6 Arkansas for a three-game series that is scheduled to begin Friday. They will also bring a new pitching rotation. 

Tennessee junior right-hander Andrew Lindsey will start Friday’s game and the Vols will not announce a starter for the other games of the series. 

Lindsey has not started a game since the 2021 season when he pitched for North Carolina-Charlotte, and has never started an SEC game. He has a 2.01 ERA in 12 relief appearances that have spanned 22 1/3 innings. 

Tennessee returned its three-man rotation of right-handers Chase Dollander, Drew Beam and Chase Burns from last year’s team that led college baseball with 57 victories, but pitching has been inconsistent to this point. Entering the Arkansas series, the Vols’ starters have a collective conference-only ERA of 6.67. 

Dollander, the No. 2-rated pitcher for this year’s MLB Draft behind LSU’s Paul Skenes, has allowed 14 earned runs in 21 innings of series openers against Missouri, Texas A&M, LSU and Florida. 

Burns has allowed 23 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings as the Vols’ No. 2 starter in SEC play. Beam has been the most consistent in the No. 3 role, allowing 5 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings. Three of Tennessee’s conference wins have come in games Beam started.

Beam and Burns are projected first-round picks for next year’s draft. 

Tennessee has lost twice in each of its last two series against No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Florida, and was also swept at Missouri to begin conference play. 

Tennessee’s only SEC series victory was a three-game sweep of Texas A&M on March 24-26. 

The Volunteers were a combined 45-15 in conference play the past two seasons, including 25-5 last year when they won the SEC regular season and tournament championships. Tennessee lost series to Vanderbilt and Arkansas in 2021, and at Kentucky last season. 

Florida won by scores of 6-1 and 9-3 in the first two games of last week’s series at Tennessee. The Vols won the finale 14-2 in eight innings. 

The series was reminiscent of the week before when Tennessee lost 5-2 and 6-4 in the first two games at LSU before winning 14-7 in the final game. 

Following the Florida series, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said it was important for his team to “stay the course when things don’t go well,” both at the plate and in the dugout. 

“I think these guys need to realize we’ve now got a walk-off win [over Texas A&M], got a road win [at LSU] in about as big of a road win as you can have. [Florida] can argue that they’re the best team in the league and we beat them,” Vitello said. “We’re capable of doing a lot of great things as long as we keep that mentality.” 

Casas returns

South Carolina first baseman Gavin Casas will return this week to Vanderbilt, where he spent two seasons before transferring to the Gamecocks. 

At Vanderbilt, Casas played in 31 games, hit .279 and drove in 15 runs. 

He has transformed into one of the league’s most dangerous hitters at South Carolina. He enters the series with 15 home runs, 6 doubles and 37 RBI. 

“I had a lot of great times at Vanderbilt,” Casas told the Gamecocks’ athletics website earlier this year. “Going on the road for SEC games is a great opportunity to see other facilities and the environment at other stadiums. I thought [South Carolina] was the best stadium we ever went to. This stadium is absolutely beautiful, and the environment was electric. I thought this was a place I could see myself playing, and I’m glad to be here.”

In addition to playing against several former Vanderbilt teammates, Casas will play against two former high school teammates this week. Vanderbilt outfielder Enrique Bradfield and left-handed pitcher Devin Futrell attended American Heritage High School with Casas in Florida. 

Thinning bullpen

LSU is battling injuries to its pitching staff. 

Right-hander Chase Shores did not travel for the Tigers’ series at South Carolina, and right-hander Garrett Edwards left the second game of the series with an apparent arm injury. Both pitchers have been ruled out for this week’s home series against No. 11 Kentucky. 

Edwards has a 1.93 ERA in 23 1/3 innings and Shores has a 1.96 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. Shores has not pitched since a March 31 game against Tennessee. 

Impactful cancelation 

The SEC divisional races will be interesting to track after South Carolina and LSU canceled their series finale last week due to rain. Both teams enter this week’s game in second place in their divisions. 

Vanderbilt (11-1) leads the SEC East and Arkansas (8-4) leads the SEC West.

As it stands, LSU and South Carolina can play a maximum number of 29 conference games, while all other teams can still play up to 30. That gives other division challengers one more opportunity to win a game.

The division champions are determined by the teams with the highest winning percentage in conference play. 

This year’s divisional races have the potential to play out similar to 2021 when Tennessee won the SEC East with a 20-10 record, one-half game ahead of Vanderbilt at 19-10. The Commodores had a game rained out that season and would have held a tiebreaker over the Volunteers had they finished with the same conference record. 

SEC West standings

Arkansas 8-4

LSU 7-4

Texas A&M 5-7

Alabama 4-8

Auburn 4-8

Mississippi State 3-9

Ole Miss 2-10

SEC East standings

Vanderbilt 11-1

South Carolina 9-2

Kentucky 9-3

Florida 9-3

Tennessee 5-7

Missouri 4-8

Georgia 3-9

Series of the week — 5 South Carolina (29-4) at 4 Vanderbilt (27-6)

The Gamecocks earned a split with the nation’s top-ranked team last week. Now they get a chance to prove themselves against the team with the SEC’s best record. 

Vanderbilt had a 10-game conference winning streak snapped with a Game 2 loss at Missouri last week, but the Commodores won the third game to win their fourth consecutive series. 

Both teams enter the series with injuries to their starting rotation. Vanderbilt’s No. 1 starter, left-hander Carter Holton, is questionable with soreness that caused him to miss a start against Missouri. Holton was not listed among the starters for this weekend’s games.

South Carolina right-hander Noah Hall did not pitch against LSU and will be out again this week with a back injury. 

Vanderbilt and South Carolina are among five teams without a series loss in SEC play. Arkansas, LSU and Florida are the others. 

Other weekend series 

11 Kentucky (27-5) at 1 LSU (27-5)*

12 Tennessee (23-10) at 6 Arkansas (26-7)

Georgia (18-15) at 3 Florida (28-6)

Missouri (21-11) at Texas A&M (20-13)*

Auburn (19-13-1) at Alabama (24-10)

Ole Miss (19-14) at Mississippi State (20-14)

* Series begins Thursday

Hitter of the Week — Ethan Petry, South Carolina

Petry homered twice and had 8 RBI during the Gamecocks’ series-opening 13-5 victory over LSU. He also drove in a run during the second game of the series. 

Petry’s first home run was against LSU right-hander Paul Skenes, who had not allowed a homer in 44 1/3 innings prior to the outing. 

The freshman leads the SEC with an .898 slugging percentage. He ranks second in batting average (.449), RBI (52) and home runs (16). 

Pitcher of the Week — Liam Sullivan, Georgia 

The Georgia left-hander allowed 4 hits, struck out 8 and shut out Kentucky in the first game of a 7-inning doubleheader last Sunday. 

Sullivan became the first Georgia pitcher to record an SEC shutout since 2014. 

Stat of the Week 

The SEC has had 62 nine-inning conference games. The average game time has been 2 hours, 49 minutes. 

The league’s 194 nine-inning games last season had an average length of 3 hours, 10 minutes. 


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