Corbin's got the arms; needs Vandy's big bat

Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 9:52pm
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The Commodores hope to have injured slugger Curt Casali back in the lineup this weekend.

Tim Corbin hit on a weekend rotation of starting pitchers right of the bat this spring. What Vanderbilt’s baseball coach has missed in recent weeks is one of his big bats.

First baseman Curt Casali has missed seven full games and parts of several others with a hamstring injury, which still is not 100 percent with the Commodores’ first home series of the conference season set to begin Friday.

Vanderbilt (18-4, 1-2 in the SEC) will play Kentucky (16-5) at 6 p.m., Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Hawkins Field.

“We’re going to try and get (Casali) back in there this weekend,” Corbin said. “He’s still not going to be 100 percent, but we’re working toward that.”

Casali’s batting average is .422, tops among all VU players with at least 20 at-bats. Yet that’s down roughly 30 points from the time he got hurt. He was 0-for-1 in a pinch-hit appearance in Wednesday’s 18-2 victory over Wright State.

He also has three home runs, which is tied for third and two off the team lead of third baseman Jason Esposito.

“He’s someone who makes a difference,” Corbin said. “Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go.”

There are no such questions with a starting pitching.

Sonny Gray, Taylor Hill and Jack Armstrong have been the Commodores’ weekend starters all season. Combined they are 9-3 with 76 strikeouts and 32 walks.

The biggest question among that group was Armstrong, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who was named a third-team Preseason All-American by Baseball America following a summer in which he dominated at the Cap Cod Baseball League. He had a 12.91 ERA in limited appearances (all out of the bullpen) for VU in 2009.

He has not lost this season (3-0).

“We felt all along with Jack that if he pitched anywhere close to what he did in the summer, he would be really good for us,” Corbin said. “He’s better as a starter than he is coming out of the bullpen. The big thing has been for him to learn to throw strikes and let the players behind him make plays.”

Armstrong was the winning pitcher last Sunday, when Vanderbilt rallied from three runs down and avoided a sweep at Alabama on the first weekend of conference play.

“That certainly made us all feel better, and it made the bus ride home a lot better,” Corbin said. “I think Alabama is pretty good … (but) you can’t get swept on the road in this conference. It will kill you if you do.”

At home, of course, they’re looking to do even better.