Dave Serrano speaks about the Vols' improvement
Luring recruits with the promise of immediate playing time is nothing new, even when that playing time might be more theoretical than realistic.
But Dave Serrano wasn’t kidding and Christin Stewart knew it.
Stewart knew Tennessee baseball was rebuilding from the ground up. He was happy to sign on as one of 18 freshmen.
“I kind of like it,’’ Stewart said Thursday, “because we could build chemistry together.
“And I loved where the coaches wanted to go with the program.’’
Stewart is one of three freshmen — sometimes four, five or six — in the every-day lineup for UT (17-18, 5-10 SEC). He’s started 26 of 29 games he’s played.
He’s batting .311 overall, .275 in SEC play, and riding an eight-game hitting streak into a series with No. 20 Ole Miss (26-12, 7-8) that starts at 6 p.m. Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The series continues Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Stewart’s bat has been especially lively — 8-of-14 — during the Vols’ recent
about-face. An eight-game losing streak has been exorcised with four wins in five games.
“We were hoping Christin would be a middle-of-the-order type hitter,’’ Serrano said, “so he’s lived up to our expectations.
“But what I keep seeing and the coaches keep seeing is he’s just getting better and better.
“He takes some real mature at-bats most of the time, where he works deep counts and gets his pitch. You’re gonna see more power numbers out of him as he gets more experienced.’’
Stewart has but one collegiate home run but Serrano saw power while evaluating Stewart at Providence Christian Academy in suburban Atlanta. Stewart generated 69 career home runs to tie the Georgia state record.
He was part of a state-title team but playing at a low classification might have discouraged some recruiters.
“But every time our guys saw him in the summer against better competition he excelled,’’ Serrano said.
Stewart found an opening in right field at UT. Hamstring problems have necessitated a designated-hitter role lately. That’s been an adjustment.
“You stay up in the dugout between innings, take a jog to the foul pole and back,’’ Stewart said. “Take mental swings in the dugout. Stay focused.’’
And stay positive. The eight-game losing streak that climaxed in a 19-2 pounding by South Carolina was tough, especially on all the freshmen.
Stewart credits older players — like grizzled sophomore Will Maddox — for calling a team meeting that helped turn momentum.
“The older guys told us it’s not gonna be like last year,’’ Stewart said. “We have all the potential in the world.’’
Notebook: Maddox returns to the lineup Friday after being hit by a pitch on the elbow at Kentucky. He missed Tuesday’s win over Virginia Tech. First baseman Scott Price (muscle strain) remains doubtful this weekend.
Freshman A.J. Simcox is hitting .380 in SEC play.
Freshman Aaron Quillen gets the Friday start, followed by Nick Williams on Saturday. Zack Godley, the Sunday starter, is the SEC’s only pitcher with two complete-game shutouts in league play.