Mike Strange: Vols' pitching staff will be work in progress

Mike Strange

Dave Serrano: Vols' destiny based on season's work, not first series

I talked to a pitcher, a catcher and an infielder Tuesday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. There was a common phrase used by each.

It rang a bell from Dave Serrano's introductory news conference last summer when he was hired as Tennessee's baseball coach.

Pounding strikes. As in:

"This pitching staff has grown up fast,'' said Nick Williams, the sophomore pitcher from Farragut. "We're buying in Coach Serrano's system, working on pounding the low strikes and getting ahead.''

"As an infielder,'' said senior shortstop Zach Osborne, "you always want guys out there pounding strikes, keeping the game flowing, instead of laying back on your heels, getting kind of bored.''

Job One in the Serrano Era is throwing strikes. Pounding strikes.

This isn't a revolutionary concept. Who wants to throw balls? The Vols' staff hurled enough of them in 2011 to lead the SEC at 4.09 walks per game.

So it sounds good in theory. Doing it on the mound when the lights are on is another story.

The Vols open the season Friday with a weekend series against Northern Illinois. Tennessee is picked to finish last in the SEC and one of the primary reasons why is concerns over the pitching staff.

Pitching is Serrano's area of expertise and he will have his hands full coaching up this inexperienced staff that has not experienced much success at the college level.

If he can get them to pound strikes on a consistent basis, that's at least a starting point.

"It's going to take our pitching staff and our defense to succeed for us to be good,'' Serrano said Tuesday. "And that will be the case every year in this program.''

The coach who has guided two different programs to the College World Series admits his biggest worry early on in his new job was the pitching.

For good reason. Steven Gruver and Rob Catapano, the two top starters from last year, are gone. So are three other experienced arms.

Starting virtually from square one in fall practice, Serrano has arrived at his first weekend starters, Drew Steckenrider, Zack Godley and Nick Blount.

"Steckenrider, I'm kind of basing it on potential a little bit and I don't like to be that way,'' Serrano said.

Godley didn't start at all last year. Blount was 1-5.

Williams has been "as consistent as anyone,'' Serrano said, but will start the season as the closer, a position of great trust.

The starters won't work long in any case, at least not for a while. Serrano has scripted a rotation he hopes will alleviate pressure and build confidence.

"When we get to mid-March maybe guys are going seven, eight innings,'' he said.

Serrano will call — or "suggest'' — the pitches. The guy who will catch many of them is Seymour's Wes Walker.

Walker thinks the staff might surprise some the skeptics. Time well tell.

At any rate, Walker too is on message.

"Coach Serrano has said it plenty, we want to throw strikes," Walker said. "We want to keep the ball low.

"In oh-two situations, we want to bury a curve ball in the ground."

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 11

formerflgranny writes:

Let's play ball! GO VOLS!!!!!!!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

Serrano's background is pitching. Wouldn't be shocked if this is the most improved unit on the team.

givehim6 writes:

When you start on the bottom there is only one plas to go, got a filling UT will not end up on the bottom at seasons end.

givehim6 writes:


Atuss writes:

in response to givehim6:

When you start on the bottom there is only one plas to go, got a filling UT will not end up on the bottom at seasons end.

UT has the right man. Serrano and his staff will make UT relevant in SEC baseball again. If UT can beat out Kentucky they will finish fifth in the East. Baseball is the SEC's toughest sport from top to bottom. Everybody is very good. The 30 game conference schedule is a grind and will expose your weaknesses. UF, So. Carolina and Vandy will finish in the top 3 in the East. UGA could crack the top 3 but most likely will be fourth. I think UT finishes fifth.

wigmeister writes:

Fifth is logical unless the pitching improves more than expected during the season, and they get some consistent hitting.

BolivrBob writes:

Feeling kinda hopeful

Volunteer_Pride1794 writes:

This team could surprise A LOT of people not only in the SEC, but across the country! We have a great group of kids, an excellent coach, and a staff that wants this team to improve every day. VERY excited for Tennessee Baseball to pave it's path to the SEC tournament, and hopefully a bid to the NCAA Regionals (and beyond...)

LJS1984 writes:

The best thing to ever happened to the Tennessee baseball staff is Mike Hamilton's move to Africa. Nobody in the SEC has a move like that!!!!!!!

PHAT_VOL writes:

We'll play a little over five hundred ball. Maybe next year will be exciting.

hcjournals#206623 writes:

Keeping it low. Tight infield. Challenge the other teams to hit it to you...Take a step up.. Good arms in the outfield. Getting good wood on the ball. Good base running. Playing smart. No stupid mistakes. This is what he is teaching. Because this is how you play baseball....

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