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Everything Tony Vitello Said After Belmont Win, Ahead Of South Carolina Series

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball passed its final midweek test in flying colors on Tuesday night as they run-ruled Belmont 10-0 in seven innings at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Following the game, head coach Tony Vitello discussed a strong night from the pitching staff, the incoming challenge against South Carolina and much more. Here’s everything Vitello said.

More From RTI: Christian Moore Keeps Chasing Tennessee Program Records

On Hunter Ensley’s recent success at the plate

“I think [it’s] just him being himself. You start a new year and maybe you are in an elevated position or you’re trying to create a theme that’s different or the same from last year. At the start, it can muddy the waters a little bit, or it can just be the game, like people now know who you are. When you step in the box, they have a plan, and maybe guys are excited to get you out because they saw you do something on TV. So I couldn’t quite put a finger on it for you, but I think we’re looking at more of what’s true to who he is. Whether it be his swing or approach, the results evening out, I feel like it’s just more of that. And no matter who you are, if you just keep competing, you’re going to settle into who you are. And he’s always going to compete, so that would be my best explanation on that.”

On how long Dylan Loy can go

“Yeah, a lot. I think in a certain situation, [I] would feel great about getting five innings out of him, because he is conditioned to do so. He’s been pretty equal to lefties and righties, a little bit better to lefties, and he’s going to compete and throw strikes, so there’s a trust level there. Not that it’s not there with other guys, but as a coach, you’re looking for, no matter if it’s catching, pitching, hitting, you’re looking for a little Linus blanket. He’s a moderate version of that for now. He’s a freshman, so we can’t give him too much credit. But we wanted to use a lot of guys tonight, and it’d be a fun little debate with all of us here on who was the best pitcher of the day because there are a lot of guys who could vie for that. But it was exciting how well each one of them threw the ball.”

On if Christian Moore has exceeded Vitello’s expectations this season like he has his own

“He failed to meet my expectations. I’d prefer you not write down the number of home runs you want to hit, but I also wasn’t good enough to hit him. Guys like the big boys we’re about to see this weekend – I know you guys will ask – you can start with [Ethan] Petry, but there’s some physical guys in that lineup. So, maybe when you are that good, you can do that. But at the heart of your question, I don’t think you really put a cap on guys like him and [Blake] Burke, because since they’ve been here – they came in really talented – and then they keep on this steady incline, so where does it stop? Who am I to say it’s going to stop here or this guy can only do this? So, that’s kind of the easiest way for me to explain that one.”

On how AJ Russell is progressing with his injuries

“He threw a pen today and felt good. He has been on the mound a couple times now. It is kind of time — and I have been open whether I should or not — it is not like we don’t want to use the weapons we have, but if we can have success without him, it buys both of us time. Because the one thing I can tell you with 100% conviction, everyone has to heart his future. The microscope of it or the shorter term of it is next year, where he will be the leader of a staff and be a huge part of it on the mound. Also we all know what he has shown, he can play for a long time. Now, having said that, if he goes through all the steps and he is ready to go, he is a competitor and he is a great teammate. Our guys want him back. I’d like to see him out there. So it is kind of where does it all meet? We are kind of to that point now where it’s time to decide what is the best way for him to get back out there. We will hook up and kind of meet and make sure, first of all, that he feels good. There has been times where he has thrown and if he doesn’t feel good, we stop in our tracks and even kind of backpedal a little bit. Today’s bullpen was good. We will see how he feels tomorrow. In an ideal world, it is time to start strategizing when would he throw in a game for us.”

On what the final steps are for him check before pitching in a game

“I’ve told you guys this and just from my, I didn’t know what I was doing, but being a pitching coach at Missouri the little stamp of approval was let’s face some of our guys first. Because the adrenaline kicks up when a guy might be swinging a bat because to get him out when he’s just standing in is to locate. To get him out when he’s standing in and swinging is different. So that adrenaline kicks in and is a good thing for your body and your arm. But I’d prefer you face some of our guys and then get organized on what the next best day is.”

On if it’s hard to explain to Russell on why they need to be cautious

“He’s from a very intelligent family so he is very intelligent and very realistic. So when he is in street clothes it’s like talking to a full grown adult. It’s easy. When he’s in uniform it is not. The one time out there against Mississippi he wanted to keep throwing in the game or at least throw a few pitches and see how he felt. The bottom line is, last year he’d be telling Richard Jackson that I want to be in the game and I think anytime he’s had the ball out there— Texas Tech, for instance— we go take the ball out of his hand because we’ve reached a pitch count and he wanted to fight me for a brief second. So it’s nice that he’s that, I don’t want to say split personality, but I think you get what I’m getting at.”

On what South Carolina does well

“I don’t know how they did last weekend, but as far as when you kind of run into them and looking at opponents or stuff comes up – I know their bullpen has guys with really good stuff. Shocker, in our league. That’s kind of a theme. We will start to pick those guys apart a little bit as far as preparing or at least take a look at them. And then offensively there’s just a lot of experience in there and there’s balance too between left and right-handed hitters. A couple of guys who went from Vanderbilt to there. A couple of guys who have been there a while.  A couple of guys who played last year who were young. By age, you’re never going to be too old in this league – especially if you’re a sophomore – but when you rack up a bunch of at-bats and kind of see what it all looks like, and now we’re at the end of the second season, now you are kind of an older guy who has experience.”

On his thoughts on the pitchers against Belmont

“Yeah, I wasn’t here yesterday but it almost looked like they had a meeting and said this is how we want to throw the ball today. I know it wasn’t perfect. [Austin] Hunley was throwing about as well as he has and then gives up a hit – it’s the cost of throwing strikes – and maybe we did have a couple of walks. I forgot what the box score said. Matt Dallas looked like – I want the ball. Marcus Phillips looked like – I want the ball. He kind of finished on that high note. I’m not a big velocity guy, but he’s one of those guys that is more accurate the harder he is throwing. We have kind of shown our hand this year. He is not going to throw six innings in a game this year – it is more likely to be six hitters. When he cuts it loose like he did today, it is kind of exciting. Overall, I think the one game against Lipscomb we didn’t pitch very well. It’s not easy to go through 56 games, and we aren’t there yet, you only have a few blips on the radar screen where you are not sure what you’re getting out of your guys. They have been very dependable and have been a Frank Anderson type pitching staff. They got a really good challenge as we mentioned that lineup coming this weekend and the regular season, in my opinion, is far from over.”

On the importance of an offensive night after being shutout on Sunday

“The first nine runs were great. The last one, I already used my cuss word in my in-game interview on Sunday. So, I won’t do one now. I’d like to. I don’t know. I’ve had it with that – I’ve recommended people to be on the board or when we have our SEC meetings, to be the ones that speak first and all that. I am way down the totem pole and I ain’t trying to be humble, but I’m kind of over this whole deal here [run-rule]. 10 ain’t a lot and I don’t know why that’s the number. Reese Chapman hits a home run and everyone is bummed out. That’s not good and doesn’t make sense. But to answer the question and to quit acting like I’m the commissioner of baseball, everybody in the starting lineup except for one guy who had an at-bat they can kind of hang their hat on. That’s awesome. No one got a full day, really. Yet, each guy – [Colby] Backus at the back [had] two at-bats. Cmo [Christian Moore] kind of salvages the day as a center fielder, right-handed hitting Ken Griffey there. Not very good defensively on that one play but he hits a homer and everyone in between…[Blake] Burke’s last ball, didn’t get a hit but he smoked it. The scoreboard showed some runs and some guys got something again they can kind of hang their hat on going into the weekend.”

On how important it is to finish the regular season the right way this weekend against South Carolina

“Everybody says you want to get hot at the right time, but some of the teams that have been labeled hot, it didn’t go so well at the end or in Hoover. So, I think each time we put on the uniform, we just want to compete and do well. And then you do want to look for reasons — kind of the Michael Jordan thing — you’re always searching for motivation. This is our place we come to work everyday, we love playing here. Now that the weather is warm, the crowds have been getting better and better. There’s a lot of things wrapped into why you should appreciate the opportunity on Thursday night. You could even throw into that piggy bank, yeah, tonight was a bounce-back win after Sunday (at Vanderbilt), but it was a non-conference game. Thursday is an opportunity to get back out there after a conference game, whereas the last one was very frustrating. So, I think the easiest and best thing to do, for staff and players, is hone it into Thursday. School is out as of Thursday. There’s another one for you. There’s a lot of reasons to come to the park with some energy, be grateful and compete your butt off. And you’re doing all those things because you do want to win that game. Then after that game is over, we’ll assess what’s going on with day two which is Friday this weekend.”

On what Moore has meant to the program

“I just think winning. Like, I know Vince Lombardi took crap for saying, ‘winning at all costs.’ That’s not what he said, but (a) type of phrase to shrink it. So for us when we first got here, people didn’t believe they could win. We needed to work a little harder to win, so everything is pushing forward as a winning approach and if you do well enough, you’ll get some feedback from the game that it’s either a homer or a win. He and Blake Burke are winners. They find ways to do different things whether it’s a hit in the first inning or a hit in extra innings with the game on the line. Extra base hits or just getting on base. C-Mo reached on an error the first (at-bat), but he was 0-2 in a hurry and then extended it five, six more pitches, puts the ball in play, everybody knows he’s a green runner, so maybe you hurry a little bit. Just winning is the word that comes to mind.

“When their time is over — I don’t mean to sound like a jerk — I’ll high five and I’ll be all for the individual accolades, and like, that’s a pretty cool record, that’s a big number of this or that, but I think in the current moment, the thing that sticks out is those guys are winners and they’ve evolved with how they would be labeled that.”

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