Tennessee Baseball Head Coach Tony Vitello noted after the Vols’ 3-1 season-opening loss to Arizona on Friday night that outfield play was something Tennessee is going to have to work on moving forward.
Overall, the Vols had a solid night defensively, but a majority of Arizona’s hits, and certainly a few crucial ones late, were assisted by poor positioning from Tennessee’s outfielders.
Vitello said ahead of the weekend that there would likely be a different outfield rotation all three nights in Arizona. On night one, Tennessee started Kyle Booker in left, Jared Dickey in center and Christian Scott in right. While Dickey flashed his speed a few times to make good plays, the Vols had an overall subpar night in the outfield.
“Outfield play for us,” Vitello said when asked what areas the team needs to get better in. “You have three new outfielders out there as far as starting goes but they’ve all had action. Had a few balls fall in front of us when you’ve got to be King Kong to hit it out of this place today unless you go right down the left field line, so maybe a little bit better communication so you get a better jump. Maybe better communication for us where we’re positioned a little bit better because it was one of those games where any one thing was going to make a big difference.”
The majority of Arizona’s seven hits were hit to the shallow outfield, taking advantage of Tennessee’s outfielders playing farther back.
When asked to evaluate the performances of Dickey, Booker and Scott, Vitello noted that they played well, but first game emotions may have played a part in them not playing to their potential.
“I think Jared is such a high energy kid he was maybe a little amped up,” Vitello said. “C. Scott and Booker too are so fun to be around as kids because they have big personalities and that’ll shine through more as time goes on but being first time out there, opening day starters, you have those emotions running high that make the great personality you have as a kid. You just have to learn to direct them in the right way and I think all three of them played well but, like Dollander, I think all three of the outfielders know they can play even better and there’s guys on the bench too who are capable of doing some things and (Hunter) Ensley is one of them.”
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We will see what route Vitello decides to take in game two of Tennessee’s weekend in the desert. Highly touted Cincinnati transfer outfielder and 2022 AAC Player of the Year Griffin Merritt will be inactive once again on Saturday as he serves the final game of his suspension. Merritt will likely serve as an every day starter for Tennessee in left field, and his hitting power will be a big help for Tennessee on Sunday.
Merritt isn’t the only incoming transfer Tennessee missed on Friday. Elite Kansas short stop transfer Maui Ahuna is still awaiting clearance on his eligibility from the NCAA, and until further notice, his playing status is unknown for the remainder of the weekend.
The Vols will look to bounce back on Saturday night against Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. First pitch is at 8 p.m. ET, and MLB Network will broadcast the game.