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."