The Tony Vitello era starts this weekend in Knoxville.
The Baseball Vols open the 2018 season with a home series against Maryland this weekend. If the rain holds off, it’ll be a good test for a young Tennessee team with lots of upside on the mound.
For his young team, Vitello’s message is to control the excitement of opening day.
“There’s definitely a thing called adrenaline,” Vitello told reporters before practice on Thursdays “It affects you. That’s why you see a lot of pitchers up in the zone in the first inning. Adrenaline can be your best friend or your worst enemy in this game…we’ve talked about putting a bug in their ear tomorrow and letting it work for you.
“But at the same time, they’re kids. And there’s only one opening day this year.”
On this opening day, a familiar face will get the ball for Tennessee. Sophomore Zach Linginfelter, who made six starts and added three saves last season, will take the mound for the Vols in the opener.
The rotation isn’t completely decided yet, and this weekend will serve as a good measuring stick for where this pitching staff is.
“There are some moving parts. (Garrett) Stallings will start on Saturday. Not really our original plans…I expect movement and hopefully by conference play we’ll know who belongs where,” Vitello said.
Tony Vitello is ready for his debut as a head coach tomorrow.
UT hosts Maryland to open up the season this weekend. pic.twitter.com/a9npiQtYSy
— Will Boling (@will_boling) February 15, 2018
Sophomore reliever and outfielder Will Heflin hopes his head coach is right when he says the strength of this team is on the mound. Under the direction of new pitching coach Frank Anderson, Heflin feels like the staff has made major improvements.
“Zach’s gained a lot of maturity this offseason,” Heflin said of Linginfelter on Thursday. “He’s always had that good fastball, but he’s developed some formidable breaking pitches. And Garrett’s just a leader, and it translates to the mound.”
Coming into the season, there were certainly question marks at pitcher. Zach Warren, Hunter Martin and Kyle Serrano are all gone off the staff. Linginfelter and Stallings are penciled in to the weekend rotation at the moment, but there’s still a lot left to be decided.
The onus is on guys like Heflin to step up into larger roles this season. And he thinks this group is capable of stepping up to the challenge.
“The outlook before the season was we had some good stuff and not a lot of experience,” Heflin said. “But we’ve had a lot of guys develop some pretty good breaking balls. We’ve just been pounding the zone and executing what Coach Anderson’s philosophies are. He’s been keeping it simple and guys are just able to be themselves.”
The Vols’ young staff will get a good test this weekend when Maryland comes to town. The Terps are coming off their third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years, but they also have a new head coach after former skipper John Szefc left for Virginia Tech.
This weekend’s series is the start of a nine-game homestand to open up the season for the Vols.