The single biggest issue facing Vanderbilt’s baseball team is the double play.
The Commodores came into the final weekend of the regular season having grounded into more of them than any other Southeastern Conference team. They added two more Saturday – one at the worst possible moment – in a 7-5 loss to Arkansas before 3,693 at Hawkins Field.
The loss meant Vanderbilt (40-15, 16-12 in the SEC) earned the No. 5 seed for next week’s conference tournament. Arkansas (40-16, 18-12) claimed the No. 4 spot, which meant the same teams will face each other in the last of four first-round contests Wednesday.
“We’ve had some double plays and it’s been our Achilles heel, really,” coach Tim Corbin said. “If we have a weakness, that’s where it is.
“It’s a new season from here on out. It’s a new season now, and as far as I’m concerned we haven’t grounded into any double plays.”
Vanderbilt scored all of its runs Saturday in its last three at-bats, beginning with three in the seventh. They had a chance to get more in that inning but with the bases loaded and one out, Anthony Gomez hit into a 6-4-3, inning-ending double play.
It was the 64th time this season one of their players grounded into a twin killing and made this the fourth straight game in which it happened twice.
Only 15 times in 56 games did the Commodores make it through without getting doubled up, and only once (April 18 and 20) did they make it two straight games without one.
“It’s obviously something we try and focus on,” first baseman Aaron Westlake said. “I’m sure we’re up there in the SEC and maybe in the country in double plays.
“You can’t really do anything about it. We battle at the plate and always seem to hit the ball up the middle on the ground. We probably don’t have the fastest guys on the bases to help us out either.”
Vanderbilt came into the weekend having hit into 58, including as many as five in one game. Its total easily was the most in the conference. Tennessee was next with 40.
Andrew Giobbi was the individual leader with 10, Westlake was tied for third with seven and three others had hit into six.
In taking two of three in the series – the sides split a pair of 4-3 games on Thursday and Friday – the Razorbacks, who had hit into the fewest in the SEC (14) grounded into just two, none in the decisive contest.
“We’re very right-handed, we’re not overly fast and when there’s guys on first base our intent is probably to drive the ball or hit the ball the other way, and we’ve had some rollover double plays,” Corbin said.
“We just hit into them. It’s one of those things we don’t mention, like bad foul shooting. The kids know it.
• Westlake hit a home run in every game of the series – one to left field on Thursday, one to right field on Friday and one to center field on Saturday – and raised his team-leading season total to 11, the most of his career. The third-year sophomore hit 10 in 2009.
“I’ve been working with the coaches a lot this past week, just trying to find the right swing,” Westlake said. “I’m starting to put something together and starting to feel good. It’s working out well.”
• Jack Armstrong came into the day second among VU pitchers in wins (seven) and with only one loss.
He lasted just 2.1 innings, though, and was saddled with his second defeat. The first was one April 17, when he also pitched just 2.1 innings before he was pulled.
Arkansas scored five runs on five hits against the sophomore right-hander. Armstrong also walked two and hit one batter.
“He didn’t throw strikes really, and he made some mistakes,” Corbin said. “There at the end, when we took him out it was a home run and two walks (in a span of four batters). In order to compete, you have to throw the ball across the plate.”
• Gomez came into the weekend hitting .418 but went just 2-for-13 (.154) in the three games. Consequently his average dropped to .398. The last time it was below .400 was on Feb. 21, the day the freshman second baseman went 1-for-3 (.333) in his college debut.