VU's Gray will make first start Friday; Christiani makes last one memorable

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 9:35pm

Tim Corbin took time Tuesday to plan his starting pitchers for the weekend, and in so doing he decided to look to the future.

When it came to who would take the mound for the second half of that night’s doubleheader with Belmont, though, Vanderbilt’s coach took a wait-and-see approach.

Following an 8-6 victory in the first contest, Corbin finally turned to Nick Christiani for the nightcap. The senior right-hander delivered a five-hit shutout as the Commodores completed the sweep (both games were seven innings) 3-0.

“We needed these two,” Christiani said. “We were definitely not coming in on a high note. The fellows did a great job getting some clutch hits in the first game, and then we were able to come through with another one.”

It was the 19th career victory for Christiani, which gave him sole possession of 10th place on the school’s all-time list. It also was likely the final start at Hawkins Field for the fourth-year player out of Linden, N.J.

Hours earlier, Corbin decided that freshman Sonny Gray will make his first career start Friday in the opener of a three-game series at Georgia. In 17 relief appearances, the former high school All-American at Smyrna has posted a 3-1 record with a team-high five saves and a 5.34 ERA.

Mike Minor, who has started every Friday game/series opener the last two years, will throw on Saturday and Drew Hayes will pitch Sunday.

Caleb Cotham, who has battled a knee injury the last two weekends, will be rested and will undergo an MRI soon to determine the exact nature of the injury.

“I think eventually (Gray) is going to be a starter, and in the postseason he’s going to be (a starter), especially not knowing what’s going to happen to Cotham,” Corbin said. “We just have to mix it up a little bit. We’re going with a right-hander who hasn’t been in a starting role, but I’d go with him before I’d go with anyone.

“I have a lot of confidence in him, and we’re facing a tough right-handed lineup. Hopefully, he’ll pitch well.”

The games with Belmont were added on Monday as the teams attempted to makeup for rainouts against other opponents. For Vanderbilt, they also provided an opportunity to get past a weekend during which it dropped three straight at South Carolina.

Freshman second baseman Riley Reynolds was 4-for-4 with one run scored and three RBIs in the opener. His two-run double was the key to a four-run fifth, which broke a 4-4 tie and put the Commodores ahead to stay in a game they were out-hit 12-9.

“They’re wins – that’s the biggest thing,” Corbin said. “They were different in the fact that we had to score some runs in the first game to beat them.

“The second … that was huge for (Christiani). To not know he was going to pitch, then he gets his number called, and I think he got stronger.”

Christiani allowed four singles, one double and one walk. He did not allow a runner past first in the final three innings and struck out five of the final eight batters he faced.

“This probably will be (my last start at home),” Christiani said. “I’m happy to go out the way I did.”