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Vitello: Blade Tidwell ‘not very far off’ from returning for Tennessee

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NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Tennessee v Texas Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee baseball is about to get even better — a scary statement for the rest of the SEC. The No. 1 starter for the Volunteers has missed the entire season to this point, but Blade Tidwell is close to a return.

“Blade just threw this morning,” Tony Vitello said Thursday. “He’s not very far off at all from being able to see game action.”

Tidwell, a top right-handed MLB prospect, has missed time due to a shoulder issue that popped up in January. He’s coming off of a freshman campaign that saw him make 18 starts, posting a 10-3 record and a 3.74 ERA.

Tidwell was able to avoid surgery. However, with a professional career on the line, Tennessee has taken his rehab slow and steady.

“It would be long toss first, stretch it out, face our hitters first, and then pitch in some sort of game,” Vitello said of the plan moving forward. “(Tidwell) is literally in my face, you know, about ‘I don’t need to babied, I want to be in the fire.’

“The one thing we don’t want is the ole’ one step forward two steps back. So it’s been slow, but we’re building up at a pretty good rate right now.”

Tennessee is 20-1 on the season, fresh off of a conference opening sweep of South Carolina. The Volunteers have rolled with Chase Burns (4-0, 0.68 ERA), Chase Dollander (3-0, 3.38 ERA) and Drew Beam (4-0, 1.09 ERA) so far this year, obviously without too many hiccups.

Tennessee’s next test comes on the road at Ole Miss, which is currently Baseball America’s No. 1 team.