Tennessee football relief pitcher Kirby Connell is returning to Knoxville for his super senior season, the left-handed pitcher announced on Instagram Sunday night.
“Let’s Run It Back!!,” Connell captioned his returning post. “Excited to announce I’ll be returning to The University of Tennessee to play my last year and further my education by pursuing my Master’s Degree.”
Some excellent news to get your week started.
The Stache is back for one more year on Rocky Top! pic.twitter.com/ygSUSxruBR
— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) August 7, 2023
Connell has been an oft used bullpen arm for Tennessee baseball over the last three years. The soft-throwing lefties biggest role came in 2021 when he posted a 3.00 ERA in 42 innings pitched and was one of the top relievers on Tony Vitello’s first Omaha squad.
The Johnson City native posted a stout 1.66 ERA in 38 innings during Tennessee’s elite 2022 season before transitioning to a different role last season.
Vitello frequently compliments Connell’s ability to be hot in an instance and that’s how the Vols’ head coach used Connell last season. The senior totaled 33 appearances, a career-high, but only pitched 15.1 innings. Connell often faced just one batter and he threw less than 10 pitches in most his appearances.
Connell’s return isn’t shocking but is important for the Vols. Tennessee lost a number of pitchers this off-season including crucial arms Chase Dollander, Chase Burns, Andrew Lindsey, Seth Halvorsen and Camden Sewell. However, the Vols also lost fringe arms Hollis Fanning and Jacob Bimbi to the transfer portal and Zach Joyce, Jake Fitzgibbons and Bryce Jenkins to the MLB Draft.
While none of those fringe pitchers were massive losses on their own, a number of them— particularly Fanning— would have slid into a bigger role in the Vols’ bullpen this offseason.
Tennessee returns key pitchers Drew Beam, AJ Russell, Zander Sechrist, Wyatt Evans and Aaron Combs while adding a two pitchers in the transfer portal: Jacksonville State’s AJ Causey and Wichita State’s Nate Snead.