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Tony Vitello Discuses Tennessee Baseball’s Pitching Plan For Knoxville Regional

AJ Causey pitches against Georgia // Photo via UT Athletics

Tennessee baseball enters this week’s Knoxville Regional with the nation’s fourth best team-ERA despite not having one dominant weekend starter. Whether regional hosts should mix up its starting pitching order is always a major question entering the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

The Vols’ lack of a dominant starter combined with an elite hitting four-seed in Northern Kentucky makes it easy enough for Tennessee. Tony Vitello and the Vols don’t plan on mixing much up on the mound this weekend.

“Not much,” Vitello said on if they’ll chance how they approach the pitching. “The one thing about last week (at the SEC Tournament) is it certainly was a long week and we had a lot of innings to play but we used, positionally, the bench a little bit and then pitching wise I thought we spread things out kind of how we would on a normal week. If anything, some guys were a little shorter or a little less work than normal. So I think it’s just the start of a new weekend.”

Tennessee used its normal starting pitching schedule for its Thursday through Saturday games at the SEC Tournament. And as Vitello stated, not only did Tennessee not push its main pitchers last week, every single one had a lessened pitch count and should be well rested for this weekend.

The Vols weekend pitching order has been the same since the halfway point in SEC play. Chris Stamos served as the opening game opener, pitching up to three innings before handing the ball off to RHP AJ Causey. Outside a terrible two week stretch against Georgia and Auburn, Causey has been absolutely dominant this season. He struck out seven batters while allowing two runs in four innings last week against Texas A&M.

More From RTI: Everything Tennessee HC Tony Vitello Said Before The Knoxville Regional

Junior right-handed pitcher Drew Beam is Tennessee’s usual game two starter which sets him up to start in the critical Saturday regional game whose winner advances to the championship game while the loser has to climb out of the loser’s bracket.

Beam has been one of the most consistent and steady pitchers for the Vols over the course of his three-year career in Knoxville.

Left-handed pitcher Zander Sechrist is Tennessee’s game three starter. He bounced between being an opener and a starter for most of the season but has been fantastic in his last two appearances, going six innings each time.

Behind those four pitchers, Nate Snead and Aaron Combs have been dominant relief pitchers while Kirby Connell and Andrew Behnke are also trusted left-handed relief pitchers. Marcus Phillips also turned in a strong outing last weekend in the SEC Tournament.

If Tennessee has to play on Monday, freshman left-handed pitcher Dylan Loy would be the most logical starter. He’s been the midweek starter for most of the season and had a dominant long relief outing in Tennessee’s SEC Tournament Championship win over LSU.

RHP AJ Russell is the one question mark for Tennessee’s pitching staff this weekend. He returned from injury with a pair of one inning outings at the SEC Tournament. But Russell’s arm has been sore after his Sunday outing. Vitello says his status for the regional is uncertain.

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

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