Top-ranked Vanderbilt continued its torrid pace on Tuesday night — and the Commodore arms got in on the fun.
Five different Vanderbilt pitchers combined to allow just four hits and zero earned runs as the Commodores blew by Middle Tennessee State 9-1 in just 2:02, their quickest game of the season. There was plenty of offense, too, as Vanderbilt smacked nine hits in front of an announced crowd of 2,188 at Hawkins Field.
The Commodores (27-3) have recorded 61 hits and 47 runs in their last five games. But to head coach Tim Corbin, the real story was Vanderbilt’s pitching.
Midweek starter T.J. Pecoraro improved to 5-0, allowing one hit in just two innings. Corbin made use of his bullpen, letting four relievers — Sam Selman, Jack Armstrong, Kevin Ziomek and closer Navery Moore — finish out the game. Except for Moore, each pitcher threw two innings and didn’t see more than seven batters as MTSU (8-19) had just four hits and struck out nine times.
“Pitching was premium [Tuesday]. That was fun,” Corbin said. “[Five] guys go out there and pitch very clean, give up one walk, four hits, limited opportunities. Played very solid defense and I think that was the story of the game.”
That is how Vanderbilt has handled its last three Tuesday games — with several arms. In its last three midweek games, the Commodores have used at least five pitchers and as many as seven with their starters not going more than three innings.
The outings are needed, especially considering their weekend rotation of Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin and Taylor Hill has gone deep into Southeastern Conference games.
“It is very important to make sure everyone get their innings in, get work,” Selman said. “These midweek games are crucial for our bullpen to get our work in and go up and face some good batters.”
Vanderbilt’s bats did some damage, too. Seven of the runs came in the first two innings.
Trailing 1-0 after an error led to an unearned run for MTSU, VU got all the offense it needed in the bottom of the first.
After Jason Esposito knocked in the first run on a groundout, a would-be pop up from Curt Casali plopped into right field. MTSU second baseman Johnny Thomas lost the ball in the sun as two runs scored, the second by Mike Yastrzemski, who came all the way around from first.
“I think that is one of the biggest things that [Corbin] emphasizes that as a team we need to be able to minimize our mistakes and take advantage of other teams’ mistakes,” shortstop Anthony Gomez said. “Because in the SEC, one mistake changes the whole ballgame.”
In the second inning, Vanderbilt put the game out of reach. With two outs, cleanup hitter Esposito reached down and drove a three-run home run into the left field bleachers. Seven of the Commodores’ nine runs came with two outs as they picked up their seventh straight victory.
“It is just some confidence, playing good opponents, facing good pitching,” Esposito, who now has 26 RBIs and two home runs, said. “Our offense has gelled together and there is a lot of team chemistry. ... Everybody in the lineup is getting hits so it is kind of contagious right now.”
• Gomez extended his hitting streak to 25 games with two singles. The sophomore shortstop was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
He entered Tuesday with a .363 batting average — second highest on the team — and leads the team with 47 hits and 57 RBIs. His swing first, ask questions later approach seems to be working for the right-handed hitter. Against MTSU, he didn’t see more than two pitches in any of his at-bats, putting the ball in play on the first pitch twice.
“No one coaches Gomez,” Corbin said. “Gomez goes well when you leave him alone. Sometimes you get some of that [outs] but there are other times where you get base hits. I don’t want anyone to talk to Gomez, including his parents.”
• Along with allowing nine hits and three walks, MTSU’s four different pitchers combined to hit six Vanderbilt batters, a season-high.
• Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin will throw out the first pitch before Friday’s game against Alabama. The game is set to start at 6 p.m. and can be seen on CSS (Channel 27) and ESPN3.com.