It wasn’t unusual for Philip Pfeifer to see double when he stepped onto the mound last year.
His blurred vision wasn’t a symptom of freshman nerves; just the product of a shifted or lost contact lens.
“It was usually hit or miss whether I had both of them for a given night,” he said.
So this season the Vanderbilt left-hander has eliminated any chance of wind or dirt being an issue. He got a snazzy pair of prescription Rec Spec glasses.
Looking the part of Ricky Vaughn, Pfeifer played tricks on the eyes of Belmont’s hitters Tuesday night. In his first career start, the sophomore notched his first career win, lasting 6 2/3 innings to lead the Commodores to a 9-3 victory at Rose Park.
Pfeifer allowed one run on four hits and struck out 10 batters – the most by a Vanderbilt pitcher since Taylor Hill fanned 13 against Belmont in an NCAA Regional on June 5, 2011.
“We loved the way he attacked the strike zone,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “He attacked the whole night in what really were difficult conditions to pitch because you have the wind blowing straight out to center [and] right field. But he did a great job of attacking the hitters. He pitched like a guy who has been around for four years.”
In just his second appearance of the season and 13th of his career, Pfeifer blended his fastball, curveball and changeup for the Commodores (3-1). Through the first three innings he faced the minimum number of batters and allowed just one hit over the first four frames.
After he gave up a solo home run to Drew Turner to start the fifth, Pfeifer struck out the side and fanned the next four batters. He exited in the seventh – the longest outing by a Vanderbilt starter this season – with two outs and a 8-1 lead.
“I felt really good,” Pfeifer said. “All my appearances up to this point have kind of prepared me for it. I like to go in there just like a reliever would – don’t throw too much [beforehand], just get ready for the game, just kind of have the mindset going in to just be ready for anything.”
Against Belmont (3-1) that included throwing over to first.
The Knoxville native walked three batters and allowed runners to get on in each of the first three innings. All three times the Bruins tripped up on the base paths.
Twice, Pfeifer helped out with his pickoff move. In the first inning, he tagged out Drew Ferguson to end a rundown. He ended the third by quickly throwing over to Conrad Gregor, who tagged a diving Ray Eastman.
“We do it every day in practice,” Pfeifer explained. “It is one other tool to try to get outs for the team. Mostly [consists of] step, just trying to hit the 45 [degree angle] just right and sell with the shoulders.”
Leadoff hitter Tony Kemp set the offensive tone, contributing five of Vanderbilt’s 17 hits for the team’s first five-hit performance since Kemp did it nearly two years ago at South Carolina.
But Pfeifer was the talk on the night, so much so that, according to Corbin, his next start could be soon. With T.J. Pecoraro battling a knee injury, Pfeifer is a candidate to start Sunday in the last game of a three-game series against Monmouth (N.J.).
Pfeifer won a state-record 46 games and was part of four state championship teams at Farragut but this was just his second start since the 2011 state final. The other came over the summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“We feel like he is capable of fitting in that role,” Corbin said. “He has done it most of his career and he has been very successful at it. I think tonight was a great indication of what he is capable of doing.”
Of course, seeing is believing.