Vols have taken their 'doses' with 71 hit batsmen
By Austin Ward
The medicine isn't typically going to go down smooth.
Gritted teeth, a willingness to take a little punishment and the knowledge that any pain will be gone quickly can help make it more palatable, though.
The fact that Tennessee batters are well aware of the benefits of what they refer to as "doses" doesn't hurt, either, since getting hit by a pitch can provide an instant boost to an offense that can use guys on base any way they can get there.
"It's a free pass," Vols senior Chris Pierce said. "It really doesn't hurt that bad.
"It's just quick — it gets you, but the pain is there and gone."
Nobody on the roster has more experience absorbing and moving on from those uncomfortable stings this season, but it's certainly not for lack of company as Pierce and the Vols prepare for a nonconference meeting at 7 p.m. today against Austin Peay.
UT pushed its SEC-leading total of hit-by-pitches to 71 over the weekend, and while Pierce didn't take a shot himself in the three-game sweep at the hands of Mississippi State, he's still tied for the team lead with 10 doses this season.
Every regular in the lineup has been plunked at least four times this year, which certainly suggests the Vols (22-18, 7-11 SEC) aren't short on toughness and also demonstrates a willingness for the Vols to do whatever it takes to get on base. They've also known since before the first game that without much power or consistent hitting, scoring runs was going to require some creativity — or alternative medicine.
The Vols don't have a special formula for attracting the baseball and coach Dave Serrano doesn't exactly encourage them to seek out contact either. But even during preseason workouts the Vols were perhaps building up a tolerance, including one scrimmage where at least four batters were drilled with pitches in a single inning.
"It's a mentality thing," Serrano said. "By no means are we trying to cheat or anything, but if a team is going to give you something, we're going to take it. It's part of the game, part of trying to find an advantage and help our team be more successful — and it helps an offense tremendously.
"We're never going to tell them to lean over the plate to get intentionally hit. But when it's inside and they have a choice of letting it glance off their body or getting out of the way, we want our guys to let it bounce off the body."
The Vols have made that split-second decision more often than just about any team in the country, fighting off both
their training from youth leagues to simply get out of the way as well as the natural instinct to avoid punishment.
And their new approach doesn't just provide the short-term benefit of putting a guy on base. With a lineup that has proven it's going to stand its ground, opposing pitchers at times appear to be less willing to throw inside for fear of giving up a baserunner — and UT has made clear it's not going to turn down an opportunity by turning away from a pitch.
After all, the pain might already be gone by the time the Vols are standing on first.
"It happens so quick," Pierce said. "It's not so much about the speed anyway, really more about the placement. You could take pitch at 70 miles per hour in a certain spot on your back that hurts more than 90 miles per hour.
"That's just part of it. It shows your commitment if you're willing to stand in there and take a pitch no matter what it is."
Those pills haven't completely cured the UT offense so far. But they do seem to make the Vols a little healthier, and they don't appear to be in any hurry to stop taking them.