The No. 5 Tennessee baseball team lost its series finale against No. 2 Vanderbilt 10-4 Sunday afternoon. The Vols (29-8, 10-5 SEC) lost their first series of the season, and fell out of first and into a tie for second in the SEC East.
Here are three takeaways from the Vols’ loss.
Tidwell continues to struggle
Since two quality starts versus Georgia and LSU to begin his SEC career, freshman starter Blade Tidwell has had three tough outings in a row. He managed to grind through his last two against Alabama and Florida, but he was not as fortunate today.
Tidwell struggled with his command, routinely falling behind hitters early in the count. He needed 70 pitches to go 3.0 + innings, walking one and allowing six hits. He gave up a home run in the first to Dominic Keegan, but looked as if he figured it out, as he retired the next six men.
Yet with two outs in the third, Tidwell allowed five straight batters to reach, and Vanderbilt took a 3-2 lead. Tidwell threw 38 pitches in the inning, and started the fourth, where he gave up a leadoff single and was pulled. In total, Tidwell was tagged for four earned runs.
“For Blade, it was just a little bit off the reels for whatever reason today. It just kind of seemed off for him,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “I think we would have been better served if we hadn’t sent him back out there in the fourth . . . Obviously we trust him and he’s as dynamic as a pitcher as we have, but sometimes you have a day where things aren’t clicking.”
Tidwell has given up multiple earned runs in his last four starts, and at least three runs in his last three appearances. Since his start against LSU, Tidwell’s ERA has jumped from 1.91 to 3.50.
Relying on homers
The Vols have generally been able to put some long rallies together with their patient approach at the plate, drawing walks and getting disciplined, timely hitting. That was not the case today.
Tennessee still drew its walks, six in total, but was unable to string long innings together. They totaled just five hits, four of which were solo home runs. Max Ferguson and Jake Rucker went back to back in the first, the second straight day Tennessee has accomplished that feat. Evan Russell hit his team-leading 10th of the season in the fourth, and Greer cleared the wall in left in the seventh for his first home run as a Vol.
“It was an awesome feeling. It was definitely an awesome moment for us to take the lead in the early innings of the game today,” Rucker said on his home run. “I put a good swing on the ball, but I was just trying to help my team win.”
Outside of those four hits, Tennessee just couldn’t get anything going. The Vols are not a team that rely on the long ball, so a lack of a complete offense was too much for them to overcome against Vandy’s stingy pitching.
“We had some good at-bats, but overall the team, it just didn’t go our way tonight. But we’ll definitely bounce back from it,” Rucker said.
Vandy runs over the Vols
Vanderbilt did nearly everything right Sunday, from its bullpen efforts to situational hitting to power, but the biggest thorn in the Vols’ side was Enrique Bradfield Jr., who torched the Vols on the basepaths. Jackson Greer started at catcher because of the hand injury Connor Pavolony suffered yesterday and got burned, throwing out one runner in eight attempts.
Bradfield Jr. finished 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI, but did the most damage on the bases. He stole four bags, twice stealing both second and third in one trip around the bases. In the sixth, after taking both second and third, Bradfield Jr. tagged up and scored on a pop up to shortstop.
While on the bases, Bradfield Jr. had the attention of Tennessee’s pitchers. They did not make good pitches to the batter at the plate, as much of their focus was on stopping Bradfield Jr., though largely in vain. When Bradfield Jr. was on base, Vanderbilt was 2-for-2 with 4 RBIs, a home run, a walk and a sac fly.
Vandy would finish with seven stolen bases on the day. Greer did catch Bradfield Jr. stealing second in the eighth with the help of instant replay, but it was little consolation for him against the nation’s top base stealer (27). To Vitello, the experience of facing Bradfield Jr. was more valuable.
“You could also say we faced the best base stealer in our league,” Vitello said. “As you reflect on it, we can honestly say we faced a couple of the guys that are premium in their categories, so there shouldn’t ever be a situation popped up where our guys feel like they’re not prepared.”
The Vols will host in-state opponent Tennessee Tech this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET before beginning their second-half of SEC play in a favorable matchup against 3-11 Texas A&M.