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What Tennessee HC Tony Vitello Said Ahead Of Weekend Series At Auburn

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball is headed down to The Plains this weekend for a three-game SEC series against an Auburn team that is 1-8 in SEC play with a myriad of close losses.

Ahead of the weekend series, Vols coach Tony Vitello met with the local media and discussed Auburn being better than its record, a number of former Vols having success in the MLB and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said on Thursday.

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On if Auburn’s record (17-11, 1-8 SEC) is deceiving

“According to people maybe where I used to work that have played them already, very deceiving and I think that’s part of the deal with being in the league. I think we’ve experienced it in our program and other teams you’ve seen it, too. It’s a 30-game schedule and the the fun thing about it, you can do a lot of things in a short amount of time and the stressful thing about it is you can, you know, kind of go the other way in a short amount of time as well. So a little bit of its nature of the league, but the two things that’ll always hold constant with our conference is it’s a very big challenge to go on the road and play well and also win a series. And then every team that you play during those 30 games is gonna be a very difficult challenge as well.”

On how comfortable the team is away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium

“I think they really enjoyed the travel we did in the fall and that kind of gave them a little inside look and how things are gonna go. And then we did our usual, you know, tournament that I think was kind of mind blowing how cool it was with the way the Shriners do everything and the competition and of course playing in that park (GlobeLife Field). And then now our guys don’t have any excuses. They’ve been there, done that. We go down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s kind of revamped things a little bit. They’ve always had a lot of talent and a little different deal going on there now. And so now our guys know what it looks like to go on the road and it’s probably gonna be similar. Came down to Sunday and it came down to, you know, you could call it a few pitches, but really all the pitches make up the game and probably will be similar either this weekend or any weekend after.”

On what makes Auburn dangerous offensively

“The two left-hand hitters (Ike Irish and Cooper McMurray). Irish is doing a lot of catching and then McMurray at first base kind of took the baton from Sonny (DiChiara). There’ll always only be one Sonny, but he took the baton from him and it kind of works that way in this league. You usually got two or three guys that the rest of the lineup, you know, maybe operates around a little bit. I don’t know if that’s a fair way to say it, but there’s other guys too, you know, the right fielder’s (Bobby Pierce) been there a long time and has a lot of experience. So a of, to be honest with you, it’s a generic answer, but a lot of the things that the other teams have in the league, they do too.”

On if he likes that they’ve already played three rubber match games this season after not playing one until late in the schedule last season

“Yeah, because I think you start to learn how to navigate those waters a little bit. It can be very emotional on a Sunday. There’s stuff that has led up to that moment. There’s back and forth, you’re more familiar with the team and then you’re wanting to do so well ’cause there’s a finality to the thing. So again, to see what it looks like, to experience it and also get repetitions under your belt so you can repeat or use what’s worked for you in the past and maybe discard or adapt to things that have not worked, is certainly in your benefit when you have experienced it, like that.”

On the latest with sophomore RHP AJ Russell

“For him we knew there’d be a gap in between when he’d be available and when not. And then also kind of like when things started, it’s soreness and strain in certain areas and those sore and strain are two very vague terms, but that’s what he’s dealing with. I think you gotta take into account what are we trying to do this year, but more importantly for AJ Russell’s career, what are we trying to, you know, we’re kind of looking for another Garrett Crochet, to be honest with you. There’s only one of those big guys. He’s doing well. That’s a big fella out there on the mound. So we got to take that into consideration when we’re looking at things. So there’ll be a gap between when he starts ramping things up again and then of course a sequence of events will have to happen when he’s out there.”

On if he watched Crochet the other night against the Braves

“Yeah, and if you live in this area, the Braves by proximity can kind of be the home team for a lot of people. And then the Vols are certainly the home team too. So I knew who I was cheering for but I don’t know how others were, but sure Billy will probably be out this weekend, but every day I’m like, ‘what are you doing dude?’ And he says, ‘I have permission to do this.’ So he’s about as ambitious as you can imagine, wanting to get back out there. He’ll travel with the team, but I don’t know that he will be active. And then for the most part, you know, Behnke I think is ready to come back.  No one’s a hundred percent, but other than those two guys, I think guys are seeing (trainer Jeff Wood) Woody for treatment and Woody’s got that magic rub or whatever that drink he gives our guys and I think they’ll be able to go out there and compete under the conditions that their body allows.”

On what it’s been like to watch Trey Lipscomb in his first week in the MLB

“Kind of mind blowing and we chatted after Sunday’s win and of course everybody’s in a good mood because you win the series, but I think everyone was laughing at how long my answer was and how glowing it was for Trey. All the other coaches and support staff would do the same around here. It’s just, it doesn’t always work out that way where the guy who does nearly everything right gets rewarded and just a tremendous story. And I think it’s going to go on for a long time. It’s frustrating that he was that close and we couldn’t all go watch in person, but the time will come maybe this summer or sometime in the future where we’ll be able to see him and some of these other guys perform well. But it’s fixing to be a fun ride here for the next couple years with this group of guys that will be in pro ball and then some of them will be fortunate enough to play in the big leagues.”

On AJ Causey looking to bounce back from last week’s start

“I think presence is a big thing. It was a frustrating day Friday. You’re facing a really experienced and stacked lineup so things can, the downward spiral can start maybe quicker against Georgia than it could for another lineup. A couple things don’t go his way and there just seemed to be a level of frustration that I was unfamiliar with and his presence in the weight room and at practice always is kind of similar, kind of stoic and always kind of blinders on— I’m charging ahead and he seemed to hit a road bump of that a little bit. And so more than anything, just for him to maintain that presence, I think if you get too caught up in results or you used the word dominant, which is nice and he had been really done real well, but if you’re going out there to dominate in our league you’re probably gonna be frustrated because you might just give up two runs. But to hold the other lineups that we see completely down, I don’t think is a realistic goal. I think the best goal is for him to be the best version of himself which he was not last week.  And the biggest part of that, again to me is presence.”

On what gives him confidence he will be the best version of himself this weekend

“I think how he does things day to day, we’ve had guys, Mr. Beck has a blip on the radar screen there that everybody wants to scrutinize for a minute, but you judge a guy like him or others not based on one moment or one day or one play, but just what do they like every day. And like Jordan Beck the kid is a superstar worker, he’s a great teammate. He’s eager to learn. He’s humble off the field and confident on the field. So again,I think just the high number of repetitions or the big stack of information we have that contradicts what went on last weekend and it’s not like last weekend was awful or was throwing his glove all over the place or anything like that. He ran into a really good team, missed his spot too many times and then I think got frustrated when things didn’t go his way instead of buckling down a little bit more. And who knows, leave him out there like we did with Beam against Alabama. He could have put a positive spin on that outing, but we decided to kind of play the pitch count game and maybe get him a little extra rest because it is a long season.”

On where things stand on the left side of your infield going into the weekend

“I think Alex Perry looks really good at the plate, so anxious to see if he’s healthy enough to play. I guess that was one name he could kind of throw in there that is in limbo a little bit. I think Dalton [Bargo] is comfortable wherever you put him because of his attitude, but also because we’ve thrown him around everywhere. So, he’s got experience at each position. Ariel [Antigua] now kind of has gotten some at bats under his belt. I wish he had 50 more, but it’s not going to be the case. So, we might as well just move forward. The kid’s athletic and capable, strong enough and confident enough.

Dean [Curley] is – I was going to make a California joke, but he’s low maintenance, let’s just put it that way. I think he’s capable of playing in both spots, so it’s nice to have options. We’ve got options and I think we’ll kind of play it out as we see fit against the pitching that we’ll see. I know Friday we know who we’re facing and then they’ll announce their starter the day of the game in the next two days. So, we’ll kind of play that game a little bit too.”

On the benefits of not having a midweek game

“I think rest and recovery has been key for this group. Dean Curley, since we just talked about him, I don’t think he really fits into that category, but some of these other guys have been through the battles. They’ve been playing every day from day one. They really get after it in the weight room with Q. So, I think recovery and rest is important and it can be very beneficial to hit the reset button there in a little bit. And it was kind of like our little all-star break we crossed over the halfway point this past weekend. If we were a much younger team, which we might be next year, I’d say we need to do a scrimmage or something like that to simulate that game. But this is an older group. There’s a lot of experience and there’s a lot of guys that if we don’t tell them, ‘hey, calm down a little bit on the repetitions,’ they won’t do it. So, I think this worked out well and we were able to mix in some good things the last few days on the field.”

On Dalton Bargo’s versatility in the field

“Well, it’s massive. I mean I guess maybe he’s, our [Ben] Zobrist and Frank [Anderson] always talks about back in the eighties or nineties, you know, it seemed to be taboo in the big leagues to be a utility guy. You wanted to master one position. And starting with Zobrist, I think an exclamation point was put on the fact that if you can do a multitude of things and you’re more valuable. And I don’t think he’s an expert in any of the positions he plays, and I think that’s by more by age than ability, but he gets after it, you know, in each spot.

So, when you’re sorting out that, that active roster for the SEC or you’re looking to travel, it can come all the way down to the last guy who’s, who’s somebody that can do something different. I know on a lot of teams I’ve been on, the last guy to make the travel roster might be the guy who can go down to the bullpen if needed and catch a bullpen. So, we’re looking for any way possible to be prepared and also to win games and he helps as much as anybody in a bunch of different ways.”

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