Vanderbilt's 1-2 pitching punch something of a mirror image of prior pair

Friday, March 22, 2013 at 12:35am

This 1-2 punch looks familiar.

Dominant lefty. Hard-throwing right-hander. Vanderbilt rode this combination to the College World Series in 2011.

In reverse fashion, the latest version is delivering similar, promising results for the Commodores — so far.

Two years ago, righty Sonny Gray threw on Fridays and lefty Grayson Garvin took the mound on Saturdays. The duo combined to win nine of their first 10 starts.

This spring, lefty Kevin Ziomek is dazzling on Friday nights and highly-touted right-hander Tyler Beede is overwhelming hitters the next day. So far, the results have been eerily similar. Through 10 starts, Ziomek and Beede are perfect, producing identical unblemished 5-0 records.

“It is pretty good. I think it is similar in some ways too, just a little bit backwards,” senior center fielder Connor Harrell said. “Kevin has been as good as I’ve ever seen him. And then Tyler is so talented coming in here, throwing hard, throwing his pitches, doing the same thing Kevin’s doing. ... We get to play behind some pretty good pitching so it has been fun for us.”

Harrell was a sophomore when Gray and Garvin mesmerized opposing hitters. Both relied heavily on power, combining for 233 strikeouts and 25 wins. Each was drafted in the first round later that summer.

This new left-right combo also has been overpowering. Ziomek and Beede lead No. 2 Vanderbilt (19-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) into this weekend’s series against Florida (10-12, 1-2) at Hawkins Field. The first two games of the series will be televised — on Fox Sports Network on Friday and Comcast Sports South on Saturday. Both games start at 6:30 p.m. and the series finale begins at noon on Sunday.

Beede, just a sophomore, leads the staff with 0.84 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 32 innings pitched. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has shown the growth and maturity in addition to the stuff that prompted the Toronto Blue Jays to spend a first-round pick in the 2011 draft.

In his last two outings — against No. 15 Oregon and Auburn — Beede struggled with command at times and allowed six walks both times. But he got himself out of trouble and reached the seventh inning in both games by inducing 18 groundouts and striking out 11.

“Beede is a skilled pitcher,” coach Tim Corbin said. “I know he doesn’t like the walks but he has good stuff. It takes a special person to get through what he has gotten through in the last couple weeks and he has pitched against good teams. Tyler will get there. He is consumed with baseball. He is consumed with pitching.

“Without Tyler Beede we wouldn’t be in the position we are right now.”

The biggest hurdle for Ziomek was self-doubt.

A Freshman All-American two years ago, he lacked the confidence last spring as a weekend starter. He slugged through a 5-6 season and allowed 79 hits and 46 earned runs — both team-highs.

After a successful summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League, and reassurance from new pitching coach Scott Brown, he has been a different pitcher. He credits the development of two secondary pitches — slider and changeup — to throw behind his fastball.

“The biggest thing is confidence and just the mentality on the mound,” Ziomek said. “Coach Brown has come in talked to us about trusting your stuff and just having confidence as soon as you walk out of the bullpen, just stepping out as if you are stepping into the ring. Just having the ability to throw all three pitches for strikes in any count is huge.”

Ziomek ranks third in the country with 51 strikeouts and has walked just nine while posting a 0.92 ERA. He had 15 and 13 strikeouts, respectively, in back-to-back complete games earlier this month. He also took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Auburn last weekend.

His performance thus far has Corbin making comparisons to other similar stretches by powerful left-handers he has coached — David Price, Mike Minor and Garvin.

“For a full year Price was dominant I thought. That may never be seen again,” Corbin said. “But Kevin in those five performances I would say it is very comparable to any pitcher we’ve had or at least in the time I’ve been around in terms of coming out and establishing himself. … He has been the director of his own success, so to speak, because he doesn’t need a lot of people in order to get him going.”

Of course, at the moment, he isn’t the only sure-fire starter for the Commodores.