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Everything Tennessee Coach Tony Vitello Said To Preview LSU Series

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball is preparing for its most highly anticipated series of the season to date as it welcomes defending National Champion LSU to Lindsey Nelson Stadium this weekend.

The Vols lost twice to LSU at the College World Series last year and have had a multitude of run ins with the Tigers in Tony Vitello’s tenure. Despite high expectations again this season, LSU has struggled for much of the season and enters the weekend just 3-9 in SEC play.

Ahead of the weekend series, Vitello met with the media and discussed this LSU team, the injury status of a key Vol and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Tony Vitello Updates Billy Amick’s Status Ahead Of LSU Series

On LSU and its season to date

“Yeah, I haven’t studied everybody’s record in the league. It’s a little too early to assess that because a lot of people around here might have counted us out about halfway through the year [in 2023]. So, when you start building up repetitions, the 30 games will kind of let you know where you stand. If you can just stay afloat and stay around .500, you’re one of the better teams in the county. The teams that I’ve seen in our league and any games that I’ve watched, about everybody belongs in that category for right now. With them, yeah. You’ve got one of the biggest traditions and one of the biggest names in our sport. A lot of those guys that contributed to that national championship are still around. It’s a tall task whether you’re at home or on the road or playing whatever team, but this one certainly comes with a lot of boxes that are checked by what I’m talking about or about what you [reporter] referred to.” 

On if LSU is similar to who it was last year

“I think so. We’ve had some coaching staff changes in our league. So, by the end of the weekend you can kind of see some differences. It’s not that there are pros and cons, it’s that there’s more than one way to skin a cat so to speak. The same coaching staff and again a storied, traditional program. Or a program with tradition, I should say. I’m kind of going over some of the names in my head. It’s nice when you can run [Paul] Skenes out there, and of course [Dylan] Crews. All the teams in our league seem to reload, whether it be transfer portal, junior college or high school recruiting. Fortunately, we are getting to a point – and it started with the elimination of some of the minor league teams – the rich kind of get richer in the SEC. A lot of these high school kids are saying no to the draft because they see how good life is and maybe there’s fewer jobs in minor league baseball. So, everyone kind of seems to reload. We will spend a couple of days familiarizing ourselves with any new faces. But again, a lot of returners.” 

On as a coach he expects LSU to turn it around and just hopes it doesn’t come against Tennessee

“I think Alabama series, when we went down there Alabama was the better team that weekend and it was a frustrating ride home but this team really utilized a lot of what went on that weekend and the coaches and the players kept referencing some things that happened and since then we’ve seen 1-1 going into Sunday a couple times. So that series benefitted us is what I’m saying or what I’m trying to say. This past weekend we played Auburn and these kids all like looking up stuff and we were told by two really big programs that this team is not what their record is and if they are they’re the best team in the country with that particular record whether it be in the league— I don’t really look at that stuff too much I just know they didn’t have as many SEC wins as they probably wanted and we saw it first hand on Friday night. They exploded offensively and every arm they brought out was really good our offense was just able to put some things together against them or some of their guys made some mistakes or didn’t throw enough strikes but you could see that talent. We’ve experienced a lot in what’s only been a handful of weeks, four weeks, but we’ve experienced a lot and one of them would fall in that category of what you’re talking about.”

On what he wants to see from his team in the series opener that they didn’t have the two previous weeks

“Last Friday we weren’t at home. Would have been nice to be at home. To be good you have to win at home and to be great you have to win on the road so it’s nice that we’re able to win that series but if you’re talking about Friday in particular I think our guys got off to a good start and then it just got frustrating in there for a moment and I’ll go back to what I’ll reference when we were talking about Peebles but just kids in general, when one thing goes wrong, frustration can kind of creep in for a guy like me who wasn’t very good mentally at times and I wasn’t a talented player. For our kids, if two things go wrong than three things go wrong then well it’s not my day. And that’s not a very good approach in the SEC. The minute you say it’s not your day, it’s not going to be your day so I’m talking my way into an answer. I think dealing with frustration whether it be on Friday, Saturday or Sunday would be the key. Because it’s going to come and even in our two wins last weekend there were moments of frustration this past weekend so I think on Friday and setting the tone for the rest of the weekend it’s setting the tone for dealing with frustration when it does come.”

On what he needs to see from inexperienced pitchers before giving them SEC innings

“Throwing strikes and then good presence. A guy could give up a hit or not give up a hit, but his mannerisms and just how he makes you feel. It’s overly simple but all coaches are looking for guys that make them feel good. Make them comfortable, make them not lose sleep at night, make them not pace in the dugout, and I’ve coached guys before where the numbers aren’t great on the plate or on the mound, but you feel good that they’re in there. And you’re completely fine with whatever the results are. So that’s what I mean by presence, to define it. But also, just strikes. It helps if you can say this guy has been there or done that, but at the end of the day, there’s plenty of people  that can roll into any kind of setting, a National Championship game for their first time and play well, it’s happened. So, I’m looking forward to using a couple of guys that maybe haven’t had any SEC action, or not as much as they want.”

On if Billy Amick is close to returning

“I think so. I mean, he hasn’t gotten to the point where he’s taken a bunch of swings yet. The defensive part is ahead of the offensive part. You’d like to at least be able to put him on the active roster, so it’s an option if he gets to that point. Last weekend, he was not. So, that’s not very [specific]. I would give you a defined answer if I had one. I know he was gonna meet with Doc Klenck (team doctor Chris Klenck) after the game tonight. We’d like to think that we could at least put him on that roster so he could be involved in whatever pregame activities he feels good about, and then maybe we’ll have some availability. It is still at the halfway point. All these games are valuable, but it is still the halfway point of SEC play.”

On if there’s a pitching plan

“We haven’t discussed it. As soon as the game ends, we do start talking about some things, but we want our guys to approach Tuesday like it’s the Main Event, Super Bowl, whatever it may be. So in order to do that, we have to be in line with what they got going on or what we want them to do. So it is truly a blind eye towards the weekend, but as soon as the game is over, we only have a finite amount of time to get prepared. And rather than be hustle bustle, we’d rather be ahead of things. So, we haven’t talked about that point in general, but we have had some guys come back and be available to us, and so we’ll strategize as best we can who belongs on what day and what we want to do. But, we’ve got a pretty good idea about the guys who log innings or throw a certain amount of pitches for us.”

On how nice it is to know he doesn’t have to rush Billy Amick back

“That should have been a part of my [first] answer. You’ve got other guys playing well, and you also look to your right, and you’ve got guys where you’re like, ‘Man, I think this guy could get it down for us, but other guys are [performing].’ It’s like Colby Backus tonight. He’s been tremendous, and he’s been awesome about being patient. He’s just as capable as most of the guys we have, but some guys have played really well in front of him. He’s pushing them. It kind of works two ways. So a little bit similar on the infield, I mean, you’ve got other guys that are anxious for those opportunities and are taking advantage of them. I think we’ve got some capable guys, so there is no point in rushing him back. And it is nice to know … I mean, to lose a guy like that … I don’t think we have a best player, but at times he’s been our best player on both sides of the ball. So, you know, to lose him like that and be able to win some games has been huge. And it’s kind of gone on, on the mound, too.”

On LSU LHP Luke Holman

“I think it’s a deal where the stuff in our league, not just with him, in our league, kind of shrinks your availability. Whether it’s how good the stuff is coming at ya, how much movement it is. It’s not like me flipping it to you in the cage. So you have to have a specific plan about what you want to do. There’s not as much room for error if it’s not just flipping it to ya, but a BP guy throwing it to ya over hand. Like a lot of the guys in our league, it’s not only good stuff, it’s not only good stuff with good movement, but it’s a multitude of pitches that he’s able to throw in multiple situations.”

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