Ace Sonny Gray recently set a career-best when he won his 11th game of the season. Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year Grayson Garvin just set the single-season school record with 13 victories.
Then there is Taylor Hill, the third starting pitcher in Vanderbilt’s weekend rotation. The right-hander from Old Hickory is far behind Gray and Garvin in terms of victories.
Caution: Don’t be fooled by his 5-1 record.
“Taylor’s the one that — for lack of a better term — has probably got screwed more than anybody this year,” catcher Curt Casali said. “His record does not reflect the overall performance that he has put together this year. He has been the rock of our rotation. He is always going out and giving us consistent starts — whether it be five, six, seven, eight innings on Sunday. He doesn’t get the credit he really deserves. ... You look at the amount of work Taylor has put together, especially in his four years, he has been stellar. We wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for him.”
Hill’s 13-strikeout performance — a career-high — propelled the Commodores to a 6-1 victory over Belmont and an NCAA Regional championship Sunday.
Vanderbilt (50-10) will host a Super Regional for the first time when Oregon State visits Hawkins Field this weekend. The best-of-three series starts at 7 p.m. Friday (ESPNU), with an 8 p.m. matchup on Saturday (ESPN2). The time for Sunday’s “if necessary” game has yet to be determined.
Against Belmont, Hill matched a season-high by lasting eight innings. He allowed just five hits, including only two after the second inning. Of the 13 strikeouts, 10 ended with a Bruins hitter swinging.
That came on the heels of a seven-inning outing against Florida one week earlier at the SEC Tournament. The senior fanned eight — the most since his first start of the season on Feb. 18. Against the Gators, he scattered seven hits and allowed just one earned run.
But he was tagged with the loss — his first of the season — as a couple miscues in the field hurt Hill and the Commodores in a 5-0 setback.
It wasn’t the first decision that did not go Hill’s way. Of his 16 starts, 10 have been no-decisions. In six of those, Hill went at least the minimum five innings needed to pick up a win. But one way or another — because of a bullpen lapse or not enough run support — he did not get it.
“I think we are 12-4 when I start, but it really doesn’t matter as long as we win,” Hill said. “It doesn’t matter to me about my record. In the grand scheme of things, we just need to win. It doesn’t matter who gets the win.”
Hill, a Mt. Juliet graduate, has transitioned from primarily a reliever his first two seasons to a weekend starter the last two. In 2010, he went 6-5 with a 4.46 ERA.
In 92 innings pitched this season, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hill has an ERA of 2.84, just 22 walks and 88 strikeouts — a personal best for a season.
“Obviously I want to get outs and it happens to be with two strikes that they swing and miss,” Hill said. “That’s how it is going right now but it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ve made my living getting groundballs and flyball outs. So that is just as fine with me. Plus, it saves pitches too, going deeper into games.”
In Hill’s arsenal is a fastball that tops out at 93 miles per hour, along with a nasty slider and a splitter that he has spent the last two years developing. All those weapons along with his big frame have made him a pro prospect.
The Cleveland Indians drafted him in the 30th round last year. He opted to got back to school and the decision paid off as he was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the sixth round on Tuesday.
But that next step will have to wait. With Oregon State coming to town this weekend and Vanderbilt on the verge of reaching its first College World Series in school history, Hill will be at the ready if it comes down to a decisive game three on Sunday.
“I feel as good with Taylor as any of our guys,” pitching coach Derek Johnson said. “The last couple years we haven’t had to bring starters in and out [during the weekend]. It has pretty much been the Friday guy, the Saturday guy and the Sunday guy. If you look at most college baseball teams that’s not happening. ... Taylor is throwing as well as what he has all year. Going into a Sunday game, I feel pretty confident that we got a chance to get to our bullpen and do a good job.”
• Freshmen honors: Tony Kemp and Conrad Gregor were named to Louisville Slugger’s Freshmen All-American team on Wednesday.
It is the third straight year Vanderbilt has been represented on the team, and a total of 21 Commodores have earned the honor.
Kemp, the SEC’s freshman of the year is hitting .323 with 54 runs scored. The left fielder from Franklin also has a team-high five triples. Gregor, a native of Carmel, Ind., is hitting .344 with three home runs and 30 RBIs as the designated hitter.