Issue of who starts at second base for Vanderbilt continues into SEC play

Friday, March 25, 2011 at 12:49am

One of the first questions Tim Corbin must ask himself before every game is: Who is at second?

After much mixing and matching during the early weeks of the season, Vanderbilt’s baseball coach has three quarters of his starting infield set in stone with Jason Esposito at third base, Anthony Gomez at shortstop and Aaron Westlake at first base.

Second base remains a game-by-game proposition.

“I think we’ve settled at third and short right now — as a staff, I think we like how that feels,” Corbin said. “At second base, Riley [Reynolds] is a very good defender and Bryan Johns can play there as well. We may match up there a little bit with left and right-handed pitching, but outside of second base, third, short and first are pretty stable right now.”

In the last eight games, Reynolds has started five times and Johns has started three. Reynolds had the job for the first two games of last weekend’s SEC-opening series with Mississippi State. Johns was there on Sunday and again Tuesday in a non-conference against Tennessee Tech.

The Commodores (20-2, 2-1), ranked No. 2 in the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers poll, enter this weekend’s series at No. 12 Arkansas (17-4, 1-2) fifth in the SEC with a .972 fielding percentage and they have committed just 23 errors in 22 games. Reynolds, who bats left, has yet to commit an error in 28 chances (third most on the team). Johns, a right-handed hitter, has made three in 15 chances.

That suggests that shifting personnel up the middle of the infield does not make much of a difference.

However, Vanderbilt is last in the conference with seven double plays turned. That is five fewer than the next lowest team, Auburn.

VU pitchers do strike out a lot of hitters (first in the SEC with 218) but there’s no question this year’s team is not as strong up the middle as it has been, particularly the previous two seasons when Brian Harris was at shortstop.

Corbin tried Esposito, the starting third baseman as a freshman and sophomore, at shortstop early in the season but ultimately put him back where he’s more comfortable.

Gomez, Johns and Reynolds all have started at multiple positions as well.

“I think everybody’s pretty prepared to play any position,” Esposito said. “We practice a lot of different spots. So it doesn’t make any difference.”

Nothing, in fact, has been different — at three of those spots, that is — for several weeks now.