VU freshmen finally get in and get outs

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 1:00am
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Grayson Garvin

Grayson Garvin and Jack Armstrong are not just freshmen. They’re also fresh arms.

The tall, hard-throwers did not figure into Vanderbilt’s pitching plans for most of the Southeastern Conference season. However, both have been called upon in each of the last two weekend series though, and have shown they can get people out.

“It was maybe a little more difficult because we had some older kids and we couldn’t put the freshmen in front of them right off the bat,” coach Tim Corbin said. “Now, as the season’s progressed you can see the confidence level is such that we can put them out there, as we did with Armstrong, as we did with Garvin.”

Armstrong, a 6-foot-7 right-hander from Jupiter, Fla., did not face SEC hitters until he pitched one scoreless inning May 1 at South Carolina. Then last Friday, when another freshman (Sonny Gray) made his first career start, Armstrong pitched the final three innings in a 10-2 Commodores’ victory.

In those two outings he allowed just one hit and one run. He struck out three but also walked five and hit one batter.

“I knew my time would come,” Armstrong, a high school All-American, said. “I was just staying focused. I knew it would come soon, and just when I got the chance I wanted to make the most of it, I think I did. I think I have.”

Garvin, a 6-foot-6 left-hander, has pitched in three SEC games. He has allowed three runs in 2.2 innings and has struck out five.

Last Sunday at Georgia, he came on with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth with the Commodores in front 2-1. He struck out the next two hitters, the second on a 3-2 pitch.

“(He) had two huge strikeouts, which was huge,” Armstrong said. “It showed a lot of courage and confidence in his game.”

That, after he gave up five hits and three runs in one inning of a 14-5 loss at South Carolina on May 2.

“I just stay confident and stay ready to pitch whenever,” Garvin, also a high school All-American, said. “It’s really just sitting and waiting. … You wait and be ready when the time comes.”

Garvin’s opportunity has come, in part, because sophomore left-hander Sean Bierman experienced pain in his pitching elbow and was held out the last two weeks. An MRI revealed no serious damage, and Corbin said Bierman might be back in the bullpen this weekend against Tennessee.

Armstrong’s emergence has been tied to a shuffling of roles created by a knee injury that has knocked Caleb Cotham out of the starting rotation for the remainder of the year and limited the number of innings he can pitch.

“You know you definitely haven’t arrived when you’ve gotten here, no matter what you’ve done in high school or what you’ve done wherever,” Garvin said. “Here, the slate is erased and you have to work your butt off because everybody in that locker room is competing for a spot on the field.

“…You just have to keep working and keep fighting, and hopefully the time will come.”

For those two, the time finally has.