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Everything Tony Vitello Said Ahead of LSU Series, After Midweek Win

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball head coach Tony Vitello met with the media following the Vols’ shutout victory over UNC Asheville to share his thoughts on the game and preview their upcoming series at No. 1 LSU.

Everything the Vols’ skipper said is below.

On Aaron Combs’ strong sixth inning:

“I don’t know. It was really good. He was good on Sunday. The thing we liked about Sunday when he ran out there was his first SEC outing, you don’t want anyone to freak out it’s just baseball and he didn’t but he’s facing good hitters. I don’t want to butcher Lava’s (Jace Laviolette) name but that kid is going to be a really good hitter. He starts off an inning so he kind of got into a fix that I don’t want to say he created on his own cause like I said good hitters put the ball in play against him but he got out of it. We felt really good about that but today was equally positive because he was probably the guy that was the most dynamic out of a bunch of guys that did well. One hit a team that’s got inflated offensive numbers.”

On what stood out about the pitching as a whole:

“He (Frank Anderson) gets happy every now and then. I think Zander had a chance to be caught in kind of, ‘well I just pitched on Sunday. I got a guy out.’ He had an excuse if he wanted one but instead he was as sharp as ever because those first three hitters were kind of stressing me out to be honest with you when we were looking at who we were going to start. So why not go with our guy that’s used to that role and most consistent. After that it just kind of flowed. I think our guys more in a rhythm and one that that does to the offense is— when you hand the ball off to the next guy and you and the guys in front of you have kind of been taking it, pouring it in the strike zone or doing a lot of positive things— everybody knows confidence is a big thing when it comes to hitting and I can’t speak to them whether they’re confident or not. I’m just saying when each guy is doing his job kind of how their pitchers were doing to start the day it has a multitude of things that it affects.”

On the fair/foul ball discussion with umpires in the bottom of the eighth inning:

“We actually, (home plate umpire) Rusty (Griffin) was great. He handled the game as well as he could. Handled a couple situations and we know those guys (Asheville) well. Scott (Forbes) runs a class act program. Not that anyone else doesn’t, but it was just a conversation mainly about other things. The original part was even if we wanted to replay that, ask for replay, we can’t because it’s a ball in front of the umpire. It has to behind the umpire in order to replay it. That was the origin of the discussion but they got together and made sure to get everything right that we couldn’t replay it and then maybe discussed other parts of the play. Obviously Maui thought it kicked foul and fair at the wrong time or whatever but that was the call on the field and that’s what’s going to stand. Not just in an NFL game.”

On not starting Christian Moore:

“Yeah. I mean, the original plan was that Reese Chapman has worked his butt off every day. Kind of make him the guy that was going to start but try and put as good as an offensive lineup together as possible. (Jake) Kendro I think is a guy we just have to keep in the mix and kind of keep him cozy out on the field whether it’s second, short, third or even first base sometimes. I think he can be a valuable pinch runner for us. You saw he can swing the bat with the double to kind of get us going when we were dying for some offense so just to keep him active really.”

On if the starters will move up a day for the Thursday-Saturday series:

“Yeah. I think two days would be drastic is something happened where like at Missouri we played a double header so Burns goes on Sunday. If he were asked to go on Friday I think that could affect a college guy but you talk to these kids and unless they threw 120 pitches I don’t think the SEC schedule messes with them too much. We’re all asked to fluctuate now throughout the year with the TV schedule and of course Hoover.”

On Griffin Merritt’s recent struggles:
“Today was pulling off, for sure. Today was pulling off pitches he could’ve hit. He’s put in extra work in here (batting cages), and I think his best swing was the one we talked about that went off the reliever’s glove from [Texas] A&M. It was a line drive back through the middle. Ted Williams got all of his hits on one side of the field, or a lot of them, so you don’t necessarily have to get all of your hits up the middle, but the one thing that is is feedback that you stayed to the ball and your direction was taking the thing back from which it came. And that was a really good example, and that’d be the swing he would be looking to repeat when he’s putting in work here and then trust it out on the field. But that direction wasn’t there today on a lot of pitches. There was a lot of pulling off that I saw even from my side, so I’m willing to bet if we looked at the center field camera, or if he’s in there now, that’s what he’d see.”
On what he knows about LSU:
“It’s rowdy. It’s just in the nature. The thing that’s cool about SEC towns and states, and we have our own culture here. It was the first thing I talked about when I got hired, just how friendly and welcoming it is, and we know how our fans are unique. First of all, how large of a fanbase it is. But down there, you got a pretty cool culture, and those people are looking for a party. They’re looking for a reason to tailgate, and then a reason to cheer on the team that they cheer on. There’s other schools down there that have other athletic departments that are really good, but they’re passionate fans. It’s just an environment, and then when you go on the road, in general in our league, it’s difficult. But about that team, you got the core group of guys that have been there for awhile. You gotta be careful about being a fan of other guys when you’re competing against them, but it’s cool to watch some of the guys that are in the league when they’re young and then see them keep getting better and better. And they had some guys that were freshmen paying for them a couple years ago, here, that were already really good, and obviously they’re better now. And then there’s some other guys on the roster that we don’t know yet because we haven’t dove into the scouting report until this thing’s over with with Asheville. But, you know the guys that we recruited, too, that recently or somewhat relatively recently chose to go down there. So there will be some familiar faces, one way or another, and we’ll get a little more familiar with them between now and the first pitch.”
On struggling on the road: 
“I think, really, the three games to look at are the Grand Canyon one, they unloaded the chamber on us with their pitchers. I haven’t followed them since, but obviously their three best guys. Their best player had a great game defensively and offensively, and then they brought a record-setting crowd and a rowdy environment that was a good thing for our guys to experience, it just was early in the year where, they won the game, but we made some mistakes that could’ve made it maybe swing our way or take the thing into extra innings, who knows, we lost by one run. And then the Missouri thing, it wasn’t a one-run game. It was two days, not three days, hopefully we got a three-day set down in LSU, but in the case of Missouri, I point out it was two days because neither day was good. It just wasn’t an all-around good effort by our guys. You could take any part of the game that you wanted to. When you go on the road, it can be more challenging. It has been a thing here for a few of the years we’ve been here where the guys almost look forward to it more and we do have success, I think that’s what you are pointing out. But the bottom line is you gotta go play baseball, and you need to be there every day. If you have a day where you’re not mentally locked in, you’re going to get exposed, even if we’re at home but even more so on the road.”

On blocking out outside noise heading into LSU series:

“I had it on my notes – you have to be careful about writing notes before a series is over but I was hoping we would win on Sunday. So, we could kind of be back to neutral in the SEC. We all know that makes sense. You want to have a winning record. They need to. I had that written down as a note because this team has taken on more challenges than any team since we’ve been here. We don’t need sympathy and we have talent, so we should win some games. To be fair to these kids, they’ve taken on a lot of stuff that maybe they aren’t the ones who initiated it. I like guys being hyped up but I think some of our guys might have been inflated a little bit with what some o the expectations were when you look at the entire track record. But everything about this group gets lumped into with what went on last year. I could list like seven categories. There’s been other things that we could bring up. It’s just been a really long list of things and ultimately, our guys have to pick which battles they want to fight. They do need to turn off some of the outside noise – whether that’s a Twitter battle, media, rankings, draft projections and other things. Or, do you want to play and play out style? When we played a Grand Canyon, we didn’t have a style. We didn’t have any sayings in the dugout or anything. Well now, we kind of got that going on. They do need to turn off the outside noise and hopefully they get some assistants from people too, or maybe some of the other stuff calms down a little bit. Then they can just go and play and find out if they are better than that given team on that day or not.”

On coming together as a team:

“I think what happened was, out of frustration you can either grow a part or get a little closer. I don’t know that it was an immediate effect because everyone was really frustrated with a few things that carried over. Ultimately out first weekend in the SEC. But guys kind of made the decision to go in the right direction. Deven over the course of the weekend against Texas A&M, some obstacles or times that we give up a lead or are down early – but the guys want to keep forging ahead. The main thing I would like to see is to keep forging ahead. You are going to get tested, whether it’s home or here. We got tested today, but are you willing to keep forging ahead? Today’s focus and energy could have been a little bit better. I don’t think it was poor, but I don’t think it was A+ either. But as the day went on it’s like, we are in a dogfight here. Forge ahead. Forge ahead. Hopefully that theme is what stays consistent.”

On pitchers Wyatt Evans:

“Wyatt threw full distance off the mound and made some progression. We will kind of see where that’s at. One of the other guys we have is Andrew Behnke who is fully capable of getting outs or us now as a freshman. You just fight that battle in if you want to lose a year of eligibility and look back and say this is only how many at-bats that I had. I mean, I stress on that stuff. I’m sure other coaches do too. I think I was getting ragged a little bit by someone or going out there a third time in the inning. It’s the second game in-a-row. Not trying to look like Abner Doubleday, bt trying to keep guys involved. Sunday, we had some things we wanted to do – matchup wise – but you go out of your way to get guys some action and there’s only so much to go around. Then you throw in the 10-run rule if that happens to us or we are 1- runs ahead and someone wants to play that rule, then we lose more action. We will see on Behnke, Wyatt and Turner Swistak and see where we want to go with the redshirt or the not redshirt.”

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