This baseball weekend was filled with unfamiliarity.
Instead of playing the three-game series Friday through Sunday, the series with Kentucky started on Thursday night and went through Saturday. Both teams dealt with numerous weather delays and Tennessee even busted out new, dark-mode-esque uniforms.
And the Vols lost their first series of the 2022 season.
It took 13 innings and more than five hours for Kentucky to take Thursday’s game 3-2. Then, on Friday, local lightning strikes delayed the start of game two nearly two hours and pushed off the finish until Saturday morning. When the dust settled, Kentucky won 5-2 and took the series.
But Sunday, staring down the barrel of a sweep, the Tennessee bats livened up. I mean, the offense clearly needed a jolt — maybe one of those lightning strikes did us a favor?
Tennessee racked up nine hits, scored seven runs (six in the final three innings), and both Cortland Lawson and Jordan Beck hit home runs.
Drew Gilbert and Luc Lipcius also had run-scoring knocks, while starter Drew Beam and reliever Redmond Walsh combined to hold the Kentucky offense to six hits and two runs.
“... We had this aura that we were the invincible team,” Lipcius said after the game, via Rocky Top Insider. “We were just going to come in and we were going to beat you. Now, we know we do actually have to try. I think it is really good for us going down the stretch that we can’t take anything for granted.”
In nearly every previous SEC series, there’s been some sort of drama, or at least something that the Vols could use as motivation. But this weekend, it looked like the Kentucky players were dodging those kinda moments. The bat flips weren’t exaggerated, and the stares and struts from the pitchers seemed, maybe, subdued.
This group seems to play better when they’re mad, but Tony Vitello is going to hafta figure out how to manufacture some motivational fire without the other team providing the kindling. I’d imagine this is part of being a dominant team — figuring out how to be “up,” and “on,” all the time. Kentucky came into this weekend ranked next-to-last in the SEC standings, and maybe the Vols didn’t take them serious enough.
The vaunted Tennessee offense, that previously averaged nearly eight runs per-game in SEC play before this trip to Lexington, managed just five hits and two runs in each of the two losses this series. The plate discipline was maybe the most glaring issue this weekend. Just about everybody was swinging at pitches that weren’t strikes, and it seemed like they struggled hitting breaking balls.
Tennessee’s pitchers recent struggles represent a perhaps more-troubling theme. Freshman and Friday starter Chase Burns doesn’t look like the same pitcher we saw earlier in the season, though he was better Friday — just two runs, one walk and six hits allowed through four innings of work.
He walked a total three batters in his first three SEC starts and allowed four total runs. Since then, in five starts, he’s walked 12 and surrendered 10 runs. Perhaps the length of the season is taking its toll...? There’s also rumors swirling about that he’s tipping his pitches, but, again, that’s just a rumor.
Sophomore Blade Tidwell got his second consecutive loss and gave up season-highs in hits (four) and runs (three) . The walks were an issue last weekend against Auburn, and he neatened that up, but he’s 1-2 since starting Saturdays in place of Chase Dollander and hasn’t lasted five innings in an outing yet.
On the flip side, Dollander looked fantastic in his first SEC action since returning from injury. He pitched four innings in relief once Tidwell was pulled and gave up one run and two hits while striking out five. Obviously the rest of the season will have an impact, but I’d be surprised if he’s not an early first-round pick in the MLB Draft.
Sunday starter Drew Beam fared better than Burns and Tidwell. He allowed two runs (one earned), one walk and six hits through four innings, but it looked to me like his velocity was down. We usually see him touch the mid-90s, but Sunday, I didn’t see anything out of the low 90s. Maybe that means something, and maybe that doesn’t mean anything at all. And, obviously, I could have missed something. But, similar to Burns, maybe the season’s length is taking its toll...? /shrug
The last time we saw this team hit a slump — back-to-back losses in a midweek against Tennessee Tech and the Friday game of the ‘Bama series — the bats rattled off four-straight games scoring at least eight runs, and the guys won nine of the next 10 games.
Bellamine comes back to town for the midweek game on Tuesday, and then Jonathan Cannon and UGA visit LNS for three games starting Thursday.