The No.5 Tennessee Volunteers (30-8, 10-5) travel to College Station, Texas, for a weekend showdown with Texas A&M (22-17, 4-11). The Vols will be looking to bounce back from their first series loss of the season, as UT dropped two games at home versus No.2 Vanderbilt.
Here are notes leading up to the cross-divisional matchup with the Aggies. It’s a chance for the Volunteers to keep rolling as the second half of conference play beings.
The Injury Bug
Junior Connor Pavolony was starting to get in a groove when he was hit in the hand with a fastball during Saturday’s 8-4 victory over the Commodores. He has been out since. The catcher blasted home runs in consecutive weekends after having none prior to the Florida series.
During Tuesday night’s press conference, head coach Tony Vitello indicated Pavolony’s return is imminent. “He’s making progress … It’s just swollen. He’s got grip strength. He’ll be fine,” Vitello said following 3-2 victory over Tennessee Tech.
The coach went on to describe a similar injury he suffered himself his senior year in college. The difference being Vitello dealt with a fracture further up on his hand. The coach stated that it’s just a matter of when and where the preseason All-American will fit in this weekend.
Sensational senior Liam Spence has been nursing a sore hamstring for weeks. But that hasn’t stopped the shortstop from leading the Vols in several categories. Spence tops the SEC in OBP (528.) as he continues to be the leadoff designated hitter for the Tennessee.
Who’s Stepped Up for Tennessee?
A couple of bats have filled in nicely for the Volunteers. Senior Jackson Greer has taken over primary catching duties, while sophomore Logan Steenstra is consistently making starts at shortstop.
While Greer doesn’t have the prowess that Pavolony does defensively, the Knoxville native has brought consistency to the lineup. Greer is hitting .281 with a .998 OPS. Of his nine hits, the senior has collected five doubles and a homer.
With 14 starts, Steenstra is hitting .311 on the year with a 1.000 OPS. He and Greer are tied for second on the team in OBP.
Not So Different, You and I …
Despite almost having inverse conference records, these two teams are very similar on paper. Just .01 % separates their OBP, while one stolen base attempt keeps them from the same steal rate. A&M and UT are also at the bottom of the league in BA. They rank 12th and 13th, respectively in the conference.
The Aggies have a respectable 3.96 ERA (8th) to the Vols’ mark of 3.61 (5th). When it comes to BAA, just .002 is the difference between the two pitching staffs.
So why the contrast in record and performance?
All the “quality at-bats” Vitello speaks of seem to be paying off for the Vols. Tennessee has 15 more walks than A&M in one less game. It also has given up 41 less on the mound than the Aggies’ arms have. The Volunteers are also second in the league in HBP (47).
Despite the numbers, the Vols are expecting a tough trip. Vitello says it’s “muck-and-grind time” and that Texas A&M is “battle-tested.”
Key Players to Watch
Senior Sean Hunley got his team-leading sixth win on Tuesday night against a pesky Tech opponent. After struggling for two straight outings, the senior has thrown three scoreless innings, giving up four hits versus the Golden Eagles and the Commodores combined. Hunley has a 3.32 ERA on the season, with a 6.1 K/BB.
Texas A&M’s leader is Will Frizzell. The senior leads the SEC in total bases with 96. Frizzell is slashing .352/.437/.662., besting every qualified teammate in each category.If Tennessee can keep the sizzle out of Frizzell, the Aggies don’t stand a chance.
Look for the Vols to possess some grit after last week’s emotional series. According to Vitello, UT will take a victory by any means necessary. “We’ll take wins and we’ll take productive days on the field any way we can get them right now in the middle of April.”
The Tennessee vs. Texas A&M opener has been moved to a 3:00 p.m. ET start as part of a double-header on Saturday.