The West End Word predicted four pitchers to watch on Monday. Those four (David Price and Mikie Minor of Vanderbilt, Shawn Kelley of APSU and Mike Wilson of Michigan) have been brilliant in Vanderbilt’s first two games of the Regional. Unfortunately for Commodore fans, Mikie Minor’s one poor inning against Michigan and a largely flaccid offense has left Vandy in the loser’s bracket, needing to win three straight to get to the Super Regional.
Vanderbilt is not the only top seed to lose one of its first two, and its current fate is far better than of fellow National Seed San Diego, who was eliminated in its first two games. Nevertheless, Tim Corbin faces the unenviable task of needing to win out in its second consecutive double elimination tournament. Vandy achieved that feat in Hoover, taking the SEC Tournament crown. To do so now, they will need to knock off teams whose pitching depth does not run as deep as Ole Miss and Arkansas.
In the early game, Vandy will likely face Ryne Mantooth, who did not, contrary to popular belief, appear in any X-Men films. In two innings of work against the Dores on Feburary 27, Mantooth surrendered 2 hits and an earned run, striking out three. But Vandy would be blessed to face Mantooth, as waiting in the wings is Mike Dunn, who 3-hit the Commodores over 7 innings on April 9. Peay is in the very difficult position of having burned its stopper for the weekend (10 IP by Kelley), lost its #2 guy (Matt Reynolds) to a rain delay after three innings, used almost 5 innings from a key reliever (Jeff Lykins) and having potentially three games remaining in the regional. Look for Coach McClure to try to stretch Mantooth today.
Vandy, meanwhile, is in relatively excellent pitching position. Coach Corbin will almost certainly throw Cody Crowell in the morning session, holding big righty Ty Davis for the right handed hitters of Michigan in the nightcap. Crowell is coming off a complete game against Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament, and the Commodores could use more of the same, today. Cody tossed one perfect inning against Peay on February 27, but allowed a run on two hits and two walks in the April 9 game. That run and the Tyler Farrar homer against David Price Friday night account for the only two runs that APSU has managed in 29 innings against Derek Johnson’s pitching staff this year.
In the nightcap, if Vandy is to advance, they will face a Michigan team that has to be feeling good. Like Vandy, the Wolverines have only used five pitcher (ace Zach Putnam, Wilson, reliever Michael Powers and 3B Adam Abraham). They will likely throw Chris Fetter in the nightcap. Fetter will be the first pitcher Vandy has faced with less than stellar statistics and could be a welcome respite should the Dores advance. On the year, Fetter has given up his fair share of hits, but has very good control (only 17 walks). Tim Corbin will turn to either Ty Davis (and his .196 BAA) or former Sunday starter Nick Christiani (whose lethal fastball is sometimes erratic). The Wolverines pen will likely have Abraham (2.97 ERA in 30.1 IP), closer Ben Jensen (4.54, 33.2, 5 saves), and Eric Katsman (6.14, 22, 0) available, with arm-fatigued Andrew Hess (3.76, 64.2) held for a potential rematch on Monday.
With the loss last night, the Commodore home record fell to 33-3. Vandy has lost consecutive games just once this year and would likely be favored in each of the remaining games of this Regional. Nevertheless, winning three in a row will be a challenge, despite the quiet confidence that Vandy carries, even when trailing. To win out, Vandy will need their anemic bats to come to life. So far, Vandy has managed only 5 runs, to APSU’s 19, Memphis’ 14, and Michigan’s 14.