Tennessee baseball has multiple flaws keeping it from reaching its full potential currently.
The Vols make too many base running and defensive mistakes and their lineup has limitations and inconsistencies. Those are all problems, or at least shortcomings, keeping Tennessee from reaching its potential.
But the Vols’ biggest issue is starting pitchers Chase Dollander and Chase Burns not pitching close to their potential or the expectations placed on them.
Granted the expectations were high for both pitchers. The duo were consensus Preseason First Team All-Americans and Dollander was touted as the best college pitching prospect in a decade.
The high expectations placed on Dollander were there for good reason. The junior allowed all of eight earned runs in SEC play last season on his way to earning First Team All-American and SEC Pitcher of the Year honors. But Dollander has already given up 14 earned runs in four SEC starts this season.
The right-handed pitchers command has eluded him and after surrendering 13 walks all of last season has already allowed 14 this year. Dollander hasn’t been awful — sitting at a 4.19 ERA — but he hasn’t been able to put it all together and has been far from the pitcher we saw last season.
“He’s a strike thrower for us, and sometimes when guys swing and miss, it gets you deeper into a count, so maybe you’re more susceptible to walking a guy, but [he’s] just a little bit off,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said following Thursday night’s series opener. “A little bit off. Tonight, I thought the mindset, the approach was really good.”
While Dollander has been just “a little bit off”, Burns has been nowhere near the guy he was last season. Florida hammered the sophomore for seven runs in 3.1 innings making it the fourth straight SEC start to open the season that he’s struggled in.
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Burns gave up just 18 earned runs in all of SEC play last season and has now given up 23 earned runs in four SEC starts this season. The right-handed pitcher now has a 11.94 ERA in conference play and is struggling to keep batters from sitting and teeing off his fastball.
“I can’t speak for Chase because internally I don’t know what’s going on in the game but you can see there’s moments of extreme intensity and maybe trying to do too much and so maybe a lack of consistency in their performance,” Vitello said of Burns Wednesday.
Burns issues have been so prevalent and frequent that moving him out of the weekend rotation should be in consideration. Vitello said Tennessee’s has “strength in numbers” in its pitching staff— calling it one of Tennessee’s greatest assets.
There are plenty of strong candidates to fill that role including super senior Camden Sewell and former Missouri starter Seth Halvorsen.
So what would it take for Tennessee to make a switch in its rotation?
“It would take tonight is what it would take,” Vitello said Friday. “Those guys (bullpen) are capable. Who do you want to move around? How do you want to do it? That is a question for down the road.”
Whether its Burns or someone else joining Dollander and Beam as Tennessee’s weekend starter, the Vols need much better outings the first two games of a weekend series.
The good news for Tennessee is that those pitchers are extremely capable of doing just that and making the Vols one of the best teams in the country. But if Tennessee’s starting pitching doesn’t come close to its ceiling, the Vols are poised for a disappointing spring.
“The good thing that I can say is if this team keeps trending upwards, nobody in the country is going to want to see us in their regional if we’re not hosting,” Griffin Merritt said Saturday. “Nobody is going to want to play us in Hoover.”