Drew Steckenrider can't save Vols, 8-6

Andrew Bruckse/UTADPHOTO
Tennessee shortstop Zach Osborne throws to first during the Vols' 8-6 home loss to Lousiana Monroe on Saturday.

Andrew Bruckse/UTADPHOTO Tennessee shortstop Zach Osborne throws to first during the Vols' 8-6 home loss to Lousiana Monroe on Saturday.

The first option is predictable and won't ever change.

The second has plenty of variables and can occasionally be extremely challenging.

Given his choice of situations, Drew Steckenrider will take the latter.

Instead of starting with a blank slate each time he steps on the mound, the Tennessee pitcher would much rather take his chances walking into scenarios like the bases-loaded, nobody-out mess he faced on Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.

And despite not being able to escape without any damage on the way to an 8-6 loss in 10 innings that evened the series at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, everything that happened afterward suggested his move out of the rotation might become permanent.

"My mentality, I can tell it's different," Steckenrider said. "I think my coaches can tell — they said coming out of the bullpen I'm more focused. It seems like I just pound strikes, my fastball velocity is a lot better out of the bullpen, too. "It's just my mentality taking it out there from the bullpen instead of starting. It's just a whole different ballgame for me."

The results have been significantly better over the last two outings for Steckenrider in relief, and he was just one pitch away from being perfect over four innings of work after inheriting three runners in the sixth inning.

In the tight spot, the junior struck out the first two batters and was a borderline call away from ringing up another to erase the threat and maintain a one-run lead for UT (10-4). A double to right field followed though, giving the Warhawks (10-6) the edge and forcing the Vols to rally late to extend the game.

But if not for Steckenrider cruising through the next three frames without allowing a hit or walk while running his strikeout total to seven, it might have taken more than the three runs they put up in the eighth inning.

"I actually went to him, and part of trying to be successful as a coach is trying to understand your players and putting them in the roles that they can be successful in," Serrano said. "He's proven it to me twice in a row.

"That's the kind of Drew Steckenrider I expect to have, and we'll continue to use him in that role bringing him in (from the bullpen). Now we just have to find a third starter."

At least today with the series on the line, that role will be filled by Robbie Kidd.

Thanks to an inning-eating outing by Zack Godley to open the weekend and the extended relief performance from Steckenrider, Serrano shouldn't be short of other options if he needs them. And moving forward, the newest arm in the bullpen might continue to allow him some flexibility on the mound.

"I think it expands our bullpen," Serrano said. "It allows me to go the bullpen a little earlier with Drew down there, and we kind of end up having two closers with him and Nick (Williams).

"Now we're just going to need somebody to really step up for that possibility of the third starter."

Auditions for that role continue this afternoon.

And even with a costly pitch included, Steckenrider again earned a callback.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee baseball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BaseVols_Beat.

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Comments » 3

Virgil_Tutwiler writes:

..."borderline call"?

It was a hose job. There was only one person in the stadium who did not think Fiasco struck out. Unfortunately that was the mouth-breathing moron behind the catcher.

Fiasco (how ironic is that name) flinched and started to turn around. The Vols started running off the field and Ethan Bennett started to roll the ball to the mound. Yet we get a weak "ball" from the ump.

From that point, I knew Fiasco (who could not hit his weight) was likely to get a hit of some sort.

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

Anyone know why David Horne was dismissed from the program?

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to Virgil_Tutwiler:

..."borderline call"?

It was a hose job. There was only one person in the stadium who did not think Fiasco struck out. Unfortunately that was the mouth-breathing moron behind the catcher.

Fiasco (how ironic is that name) flinched and started to turn around. The Vols started running off the field and Ethan Bennett started to roll the ball to the mound. Yet we get a weak "ball" from the ump.

From that point, I knew Fiasco (who could not hit his weight) was likely to get a hit of some sort.

Ditto! I was telling my wife, EVERY time a pitcher/team gets hosed by a bad call in baseball it seems like the other team ends up smacking a homer or gets a huge hit. However, I like this move with Steckenrider going to the bullpen. His stuff is 2nd to none, but when starting it always seems like he gets tired after that 4th inning. It's a funny thing...He'll flat out dominate, striking everyone out. Then he'll come out and be totally worn out. Plus, our bullpen has been a bit shaky at times. Not only will he be a dominant closer, he gives us a mid-game option being that he can go 3-4 solid innings.

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