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Everything Tony Vitello Said Previewing The Clemson Regional

Photo By Emma Corona/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello met with the local media Tuesday to preview this weekend’s Clemson Regional before the team hits the road for the South Carolina upstate.

The sixth-year head coach discussed red-hot Clemson and Tennessee’s game one opponent Charlotte in addition to the Vols’ pitching plan and much more.

Here’s everything Vitello had to say ahead of the critical weekend of baseball.

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On being in the Clemson Regional and if the format makes it different than a normal weekend series

“It’s certainly a different dynamic. It’s a four-team tournament. This year had a different quirk to it because we played at Grand Canyon and played at three different sites, but I believe our second year here we were in Pensacola, and some of those tournaments we’ve gone to — (like) Round Rock —it’s four teams at one site and it’s a fun environment. Everyone is trying to be the best team. Our job is to manage the things we can and try to be the best team in each of those categories whether it be as small as your time in your cage being valuable, body language, handling adversity or whatever you want to bring up. With this team in particular, when you talk about being on the road, I think there is come confidence in the back pocket of our guys that they’ve been to three of the most tradition-based SEC programs in the history of the conference on the road, seen what that looks like and experienced it. Some good, some bad, but ultimately put the pieces of the puzzle together to win a road series against South Carolina, who is hosting their own regional. There is confidence through the adversity part of it but then also parallels with our team evolving and slightly improving day in and day out. They’ve improved to the point where they were able to win, again, not just on the road but against one of the best teams in the country.”

On the time off after Hoover

“We’ll look back on this year regardless of how things go moving forward and a big theme will be illnesses or sickness. I don’t what it is. I know other people have experienced it, but I think we’ve experienced it to the max. It started in the fall and it has not stopped. Cal Stark came back yesterday for the time after a couple of days of being sick. If we would have stayed in Hoover for a maximum amount of days, there would have been several days where guys were not available. It allowed a few of those guys to recover and maybe avoid other guys from getting sick, if that makes sense. They’ve been allowed to rest their immune system — I’m certainly not Dr. (Chris) Klenck — but also just rest in general. You see guys bouncing around with a little bit more energy, and for us, because we strategize with our bullpen and also just kind of getting the pitching thing sorted (out), I think some guys had been pushed pretty good and were starting to feel a little bit sore. Those guys almost get to reset the way the season will reset. I don’t know how they do it on the scoreboard, but I believe the batting averages will be .000. It’s a new Opening Day, except it’s a four-team tournament. It’s a part of the season, and yet its separate. One thing that we’ll be able to do is almost have that physical and mental feeling of Opening Day because of that gap between our last game and the first game against Charlotte.”

On if they have decided on a pitching plan

“That would just be based off the fact that we haven’t completed today’s practice yet, which involves some bullpens and things like that. I don’t think we plan to reinvent the wheel or anything. We started to really kind of have a feel for what roles our guys are going to have. The rain delay against Kentucky created a situation we patiently waited for all year long with (Seth) Halvorsen. And again, rain has followed us everywhere. At South Carolina, it made no sense to try and push (Andrew) Lindsey. The (SEC) tournament started on Tuesday, and a lot of those guys throw Thursday and then Tuesday. It made no sense to do that with Lindsey, so Halvorsen got a start out of the deal. Whether it be he or Zander (Sechrist), we know we have a couple extra guys in our back pocket, and about everybody on our team has relieved at some point in time for this program.”

On if there’s an advantage or disadvantage with Andrew Lindsey having previously played for Charlotte

“There has been some time in there. Similar with Austin Knight, who everyone here was a fan of. Guys have swapped program due to the portal and junior college, stuff like that. But there has been some time. Not just between tenures, but also the start of this year and the end of this year. That just kind of shows you how much one team or one individual can change. So there is maybe a little bit, something there. But I think when ‘play ball’ is said across the country on Friday for all these games, these kids grow up and they probably shouldn’t be worried about Omaha when they’re playing in a regional, because that’s a few weekends away, but that’s what everyone is going to get wrapped up in. And everyone is going to have the most energy in the dugout in the first inning and, again, that’s every team. And they’re going to be wrapped up in ‘how do we win?’ So storylines can be fun. I don’t know that there are that many in our regional. But they kind of go to the wayside for coaches and players once the games start.”

On if he builds his roster to have multiple possibilities for starting pitching this time of year

“I was talking with a guy the other day on the phone and he used the word stable. And it’s kind of nice to feel like you’ve got a lot of thoroughbreds in the stable. I think we’ve kind of been multipurpose in recruiting. We’ve maybe hit on some guys that were guys everybody in the league wanted. Then there have also been some kinds that Coach E and Coach Anderson just had a good eye for. And then I mentioned the name Coach Anderson. He, ‘Q’ and Woody work with the pitchers way more than I’m ever around those guys at all. That’s a pretty good triumvirate, if I can use, I think that’s a Roman word or Latin or something like that. But that’s a pretty good trio right there. So you’re going to end up producing some guys that were either already good, they get better, or some guys that were maybe under the radar and they improve as well. It makes for a good group each year. But you do want to have a vision like you’ve got depth. If something happens or somebody changes a role, you’ve got a guy that you know is prepared right there. We saw it in the fall world series here the last couple years when it’s just our team. You’ve got two guys going head-to-head pretty good on one of those occasions. And then we play another game and you’ve got two more guys you could say, ‘I trust this guy starting in an SEC game, and this guy.’ So pitching depth is a strength for us going into the regional for sure.”

On what he’s seen from Chase Dollander since the South Carolina series

“I would be curious (to know) what his answer to you all is on that. I’m sure you asked him. But just freed up. Whether you call it being handcuffed by certain mental thoughts or maybe there are some physical things there too. There have been a couple weeks where he doesn’t feel 100 percent health wise, due to illness. But just freeing himself from things that are probably a weight on the shoulders. We use that as a cliche for a reason. But it literally can be like you’re carrying a backpack with a couple plates in it. So you walk around campus as a student, if you’ve got a 10-pound weight in your backpack, you’re not going to want to walk very far. You can handle it for a little bit. So I use that as an analogy for how I’ve see ‘Do’ just through my own eyes. And you see him getting more and more free mentally and physically and it means a little more upbeat tempo, a little bit more upbeat and better presence or body language. And ultimately it means better stuff too. The criteria for judging an outing can be different for everybody. But again, save from the outing where he was sick, I’ve kind of seen this (pointing up) out of him, which is the way you want your team and players to go.”

On Chase Dollander crediting a mental conditioning coach to help with handling expectations and tough outings, if he can expand on the use of mental coaches in the Tennessee program

“Yeah, I just spoke with somebody on the phone and you’re recruiting. I don’t want to sound like a used car salesman, but you’ve got to pitch or put forward what you think are the strengths of your place. And because we’re at a university like this, we have a football stadium where there is over 100,000 people. I don’t know if you guys have to, but most people have to pay to get inside … the nature of our fanbase, and the quality of the university, and now Danny (White) is kind of an expert at fundraising and moving forward with facilities. We’ve got everything you could every want, with technology — we don’t like to cram it down everyone’s throat — nutritionists. You talk about the mental game, it could be mentality away from the field, too. It’s all available for our guys, but it’s like a buffet. If I go to an Italian buffet, I try to try everything. But maybe for whatever reason my dad only wants to try spaghetti and meatballs. So you don’t have to use it all, but if you’ve got self-awareness and you’re in an area where you’re struggling, maybe to put on weight, you’ve got to use a nutritionist. I think it says a lot about ‘Do’ as an individual to admit to that. Because step one is recognizing it, then the next step is a lot more courage and it’s asking for help. There is no one that has been an athlete before that is any good that doesn’t have pride. And when you’ve got pride, sometimes that can block things that could maybe be a benefit to you to expanding yourself. Feeling vulnerable is something, again, that no athlete or coach wants to do. But I think if you’ve got the self-recognition that you’re not what you need to be in an area, you step outside of yourself and go seek out help. That is huge. And that’s as good of an example as you can set. And it ends up making you a better person and a better player.”

​​On philosophy for pitching plans in the postseason

“Pride is a word I just brought up. Coach [Frank] Anderson has more pride than anyone can imagine. In every single inning or every single pitch, it’s meticulous. I don’t know how he does it being executed for being as good as it can be. I drive him crazy sometimes when we maybe think outside of the box or do different things to involve guys or to keep guys developing or keeping guys fresh. His goal is to win every single pitch. With my duties, I handle it a little bit differently in the season. As you get going, kind of how we’ve done it the past few weeks, you start to narrow your focus a little. How can we present the best opportunity for us to win? I think the best opportunity to win the game that is in front of you is the thing to do. And then you’ve got to scramble, win or lose, any postseason. In Hoover, it’s different this year, but last year win or lose – you come up with a new plan that is specific just to that next game. I think getting too far ahead can cause problems to the game that is right in front of you. Again, that is kind of our goal – to win the game that is right in front of you. You want some guys that are down there who constantly have in the back of their minds – if you need me to handle this I can. Coach (Video Coordinator) [Sean] McCann is about as good of a pitching coach across the country as you can imagine. It is fun to watch him and Frank work together. He tells the story on a Tuesday, his Friday night guy, they kept going extra innings and extra innings when he was at Northwestern State. The guy just went and tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘do you need me to win this game?’ He ran down there and put on his spikes and ended the game. It’s that time of the year.”

On where he’s seen Charlotte infielder Austin Knight improve since transferring away from Tennessee

“When we went over there a couple of years ago during a midweek, he made some plays at third base. He did that here though. He was capable of being a good defender anywhere on the infield. We used him at first base and came in naturally as a shortstop. He was naturally in that mix of Trey [Lipscomb] and Jorel [Ortega] – his buddy Max Ferguson – who could really play anywhere. It’s not like he hasn’t improved in those areas, but he’s always had those capabilities of playing anywhere on the field. He pinch ran for us a couple of times, so athletic enough to be a good base runner. And then hitting, everybody evolves each year. You tinker a little bit with stance and stuff like that. He is an aggressive hitter and a guy who wants to hit. We have seen that in his time here and then that one occasion we drove over there and played on a Tuesday. Since, you started to break down the video that I’m sure those guys have checked out. That aggression stays there. For him and everyone else, it’s about getting older and getting more mature. That’s kind of what our game has become. I don’t want to say old man’s game because we are talking about 22 and 23-year-olds. But shorten draft, COVID, transfer portal – it’s surely made it to where you maybe don’t have to be older in age, but you better have a level of maturity to you and better be as physical of a guy like Luc Lipcius, who is an old man now. Old, retired and married. Probably making money too.” 

On Knoxville native and Charlotte star Cam Fisher, plans to slow him down

“Not to this point other than I know where he trained. Again, you talk about maturity it can come in a bunch of different ways and physically I know where he trains with crazy Charlie. He’s been with him at times and has transformed his body into one that’s capable of doing the things you’re talking about. He needs to be on Father Day thankful because he has good genes and a good mindset from his dad who has from day one when we got hired. If I’m not mistaken, he was already committed before we got hired to the first university he attended (Ole Miss). But ever since then his dad has been helpful to us in the community. He’s been fun to talk to at the park, within the rules, and he’s a good baseball mind. I joke about Father’s Day because he got good genes and a good mindset from his dad. Good family and it’s good to see him having a good year and it goes without saying that you prefer him to not have too good of a year against us.”

On if he got to see Ben Joyce make his MLB debut Sunday night

“I did. I was very upset I didn’t get to see it in person. It kind of worked out cool where he was in the midwest. Zach (Joyce) asked to travel and the family scrambles to California which is great for them— I didn’t want us to go out there as a staff and not see him pitch. We put all the homework into it and it was pretty much set in stone that he was going to throw yesterday or last night but with us finding out where we go and all this planning it would have been too much of a scramble but his brother was on the groupme sending messages to the guys and he was juiced. Watching that ball move around it was pretty evident that the big man was juiced too. To kind of come in and it not go well for a second or give up a baserunner and kind of do what he did speaks volumes about how he keeps maturing and how good the stuff is. It was pretty cool listening to the announcers cause they were very complimentary as they should (be). Hard work. Anyone, you see it in our program in a bunch of different ways but don’t judge a book by its cover. You never know someone’s backstory but anyone who follows him outside of this community might jump to the conclusion that he’s big and strong and it’s easy for him. He’s 100% created the— I almost say the thing. Which is more of a compliment, the thing that he’s become has come with work ethic and I’ve said it before but I can’t stress it enough. I said it to the guys, he has created the individual that he’s become and I don’t see him slowing down because I know that the work is not going to slow down.”

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