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Tennessee Baseball’s AJ Russell’s Status Uncertain For Knoxville Regional

AJ Russell pitches against LSU in the SEC Tournament // Photo via UT Athletics Kate Luffman

Tennessee RHP AJ Russell made his return to the mound for the first time in nearly two months when he pitched twice at the SEC Tournament last week. But it’s uncertain whether he will pitch again this weekend in the Knoxville Regional.

The sophomore pitcher is dealing with soreness after the one inning he pitched against LSU in Sunday’s SEC Tournament Championship.

“We will see,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said on whether Russell would be available this week. “He has been eager to compete, which obviously he has done sparingly. We have tried to meet him in the middle of what is the best thing to do. But he has been sore. To this point, we have probably pressed it as good as we can. If it was a normal weekend (at the SEC Tournament), he probably wouldn’t pitch (against LSU). But as we made it to the fifth game of the week and he had some time to bounce back, he wanted the ball and was not going to go more than an inning.”

“I think that is the one guy that you don’t know exactly if he will be available.”

Russell has been in-and-out of Tennessee’s rotation this season. He missed two weeks in non conference time with side soreness and then two months with forearm tightness.

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The talented right-handed pitcher threw one inning against LSU, retiring the side around a solo home run. The ESPN2 broadcast showed Russell talking to trainer Jeff Wood and pointing to his elbow following the inning though Vitello downplayed it after the game, saying that conversation was planned ahead of time.

If Russell were available to pitch this weekend in the Knoxville Regional, it would only be in a short appearance.

“If he is available and he does throw, same thing,” Vitello said. “No more than two or three outs.”

Russell made his return to the mound in Tennessee’s SEC Tournament opener against Vanderbilt. He pitched a scoreless inning after the first two Commodores reached base. It was a good first outing back and he felt well enough afterwards to pitch again four days later.

While Russell was Tennessee’s opening day starter and looked every bit of a SEC ace when healthy earlier this season, Frank Anderson’s pitching staff has overcome issues to once again rank in the top five in team-ERA entering the NCAA Tournament.

“It has been a staff that has had to manufacture outs or operate without him other than him being in the dugout, which would certainly add value as well,” Vitello said.

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