Vanderbilt baseball looks to get a handle on unexpected fielding woes

Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:08pm

Hitting a baseball has not been a problem for Anthony Gomez this season.

Fielding one, however, is a different story.

The Vanderbilt shortstop isn’t alone. Heading into a three-game SEC home opening series against No. 17 Georgia this weekend, the Commodores lead the conference with 38 errors.

“We take that personally,” Gomez, who is hitting .361 but has seven errors, said. “I’ve made a lot of errors already and it’s tough. The whole thing is not so much the errors but we just want to keep the pitchers' confidence. So they know they can go out there and throw the groundballs instead of trying to get a strikeout every batter.”

Vanderbilt (7-14, 0-3) hopes to snap a four-game losing streak when the Bulldogs (16-6, 2-1) visit Hawkins Field, starting at 6 p.m. Friday.

Through 21 games, the Commodores rank last in the SEC with a .951 fielding percentage and are committing nearly two errors a game. In a 5-3 loss to Evansville on Tuesday, they committed five errors for the third time this season.

“Errors kill you,” sophomore Conrad Gregor said. “Errors are like freebies. They are free runs. If we can eliminate those, those runs won’t be there. I think, moving forward, we try to eliminate our mistakes and play championship kind of baseball. It starts with championship defense. You take away the errors. You pitch well and we’ll start turning this thing around.”

The errors come as a surprise to coach Tim Corbin and Co. since five of last year’s position players returned. In 2011, on their way to the College World Series, the Commodores boasted a .973 fielding percentage and had just 66 errors in 66 games.

Both middle infielders, Gomez and second baseman Riley Reynolds, and all three outfielders, Tony Kemp, Connor Harrell and Mike Yastrzemski, returned.

“I have to tell you it is surprising because we don’t expect to make errors. The kids don’t expect to make errors,” Corbin said. “But I think one leads to two. They get down a little bit and figure something bad is going to happen. But we’ve got to get over that train of thought too. That is more mental than it is physical.”

Reynolds committed just one error last season in 50 starts. He has four this season, three on Tuesday. The senior had a rough afternoon as he moved to third base to give regular starter, freshman Vince Conde, a break.

“Riley Reynolds is a tremendous defensive player,” Corbin said. “Just because he is at third base doesn’t mean he can’t play that position. He plays it with regularity in practice. He does very well. He is one of the best kids I’ve been able to coach in terms of his hands. He just had a tough moment, a tough game.”

New to the field this season are catcher Spencer Navin (three errors), first baseman Gregor (four) and Conde (seven).

Gregor started primarily at designated hitter as a freshman. This season, he has gotten most of the starts at first, a position he has played “my whole life.”

“Re-adjusting, it took a little bit,” Gregor said. “I’m very aware of the position. I’ve played it my whole life. It took a little time to get used to it and as a team we’re starting to play the game really well right now.

“I don’t think it is [lack of] focus ... it is just kind of a bad funk we’ve got right now. We play defense to the highest level day in and day out in practice.”

Now, the Commodores just need to do the same in a game.