Sept. 26, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Five days and two scrimmages into fall ball, the Vol baseball coaching staff is stressing the little things and looking to ingrain the Tennessee way into their 20 newcomers.
The Vols held their second scrimmage on Thursday, playing six innings of intrasquad action. One aspect of the game the coaching staff emphasized was small ball. Prior to the action they worked on a bunting drill and during the game each half inning was started with a player laying one down.
"It's what our approach is," said head coach Dave Serrano. "Our goal is to be a great execution offense. We're going to hit balls over the fence too, but we have to learn how to have every part of the game established. We've got to be able to hit-and-run, we've got to be able to play the inside game and then hit balls off the wall for doubles and home runs too."
Through five days, Coach Serrano is pleased with the energy the Vols bring to practice each and every day.
"I like the energy; I think they're bringing energy each and every day, which is what we're asking them to do," said Serrano. "We're asking them to play the game fast, but to be under control.
"We're asking a lot of them right now. They're taking it all in and probably going through a little bit of confusion for some of the new guys, but they're handling it pretty well and the game is starting to slow down a little bit for them."
On the offensive side, the Vols posted a combined 13 runs on Thursday. To open the action newcomer Johnny Youngblood led off the game with a single up the middle. Continuing the small-ball emphasis, the junior college transfer proceeded to steal second and moved over to third on an A.J. Simcox sacrifice bunt.
One of the Vols' top returners, sophomore Christin Stewart then slammed a double into the right field gap, plating Youngblood. Stewart went 3-for-4 on the day. His classmate Vincent Jackson also had a big afternoon, hitting a double and a triple, while newcomer and Farragut product Nick Senzel picked up a RBI double.
Junior infielder Parker Wormsley also showed some gut, executing a perfectly-placed drag bunt single with two strikes on him in the third inning. Wormsley later one-hopped the wall on a RBI double to left center.
Six Vols saw action on the mound, including four newcomers, each tossing two innings. Junior transfer Bret Marks and freshman Kyle Serrano started things off, while Andy Cox, Andrew Lee, Peter Lenstrohm and Hunter Martin appeared in the later innings. pretty well and the game is starting to slow down a little bit for them."
BETTER OFFENSE = BETTER PITCHING
With pitchers only allowed to throw fastballs and changeups, the offense had the advantage, but the pitchers were also reaping the benefits.
"I really like our offensive approach; I like the depth in our offense," said Coach Serrano. "I said it to the pitchers in the game, `this will make us better in two-fold.' We have an offense that's going to support us on the mound and we're facing good hitters in both lineups so that will make us better pitchers down the line. There are a lot of good things on, but like I've said little choppy steps and there's a long ways to go still."
Right-hander Kyle Serrano, the son of the Vols' head coach, threw two innings including a scoreless first where he picked up a pair of strikeouts.
"I'm just glad to be back out on the field," said Kyle Serrano. "I didn't play all summer so it's exciting to get back out there playing and pitching again."
A Farragut grad and 2013 MLB draftee, Kyle Serrano knows he has room to improve.
"I thought later in the second inning I started getting my fastball down," said Serrano. "I've got to learn to develop my changeup a little bit more, but I thought the later-half of the second inning I did a better job of keeping my fastball down and letting it sink for me."
RIGHT WHERE HE LEFT OFF
Playing for the Mat-Su Miners in the Alaska Baseball League, Stewart tore it up this summer. Facing top competition day in and day out, he earned league MVP honors after leading the ABL with 31 RBI, 14 doubles and five home runs. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native finished second in batting average (.336), hits (42) and runs scored (36). Simcox led the ABL in all three of those categories.
Stewart picked up right where he left off, going 3-for-4 in Thursday's scrimmage.
"I was seeing the ball pretty well today," said Stewart. "The pitchers were doing a pretty good job of spotting up today and I just got some good passes on the ball and made good contact."
Stewart said his key to each at-bat is simply stepping into the box with a gameplan.
"You just have to hit your pitch," said Stewart. "You have to go into the box with a gameplan and if you see something you want to swing at, take a good pass on it."
For his efforts this summer, the outfielder was named the top prospect in the Alaska Baseball League by Perfect Game.
"It means a lot... I was very thankful," said Stewart. "I thank God for everything. I'm working hard and it started paying off this summer. I did really well out there. Me, A.J. and Trevor (Bettencourt) had a great time out there being on the same team. It was a great experience."
Stewart and the Vols return to Robert M. Lindsay Field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., with another six-inning scrimmage slated for 4:30 p.m. Matt Esparza, Drake Owenby, Josh Peterson, Dalton Saberhagen, Tei Vanderford and Nick Williams are all scheduled to pitch.
GEORGIA SERIES SET
SEC foe Georgia released its 2014 schedule on Thursday, setting times for the Big Orange's three-game set down in Athens in mid-April.
The Volunteers and the Bulldogs will open the series with a Friday night showdown at Foley Field at 7 p.m. on April 11 and return to action on Saturday at 1 p.m. The series finale will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Last season, the Vols and 'Dogs series at Lindsey Nelson Stadium was cut to just one game due to weather.
The Vols' complete 2014 schedule is linked here.