Vandy pitching ace Minor now a marked man

Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 10:18pm

Vanderbilt pitcher Mike Minor is discovering this season that anonymity has its privileges.

A year ago, as a true freshman, he quietly worked his way into the team’s weekend pitching rotation and played second fiddle to former ace David Price.

Now entrenched as VU’s No. 1 starter, Minor pitches with a target on his back and has taken some bullets in recent weeks while getting roughed up by Ole Miss and Arkansas.

“The more people know you, the better you have to be,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I just think the book is out on him now.”

Minor, a 6-foot-4 left-hander from Chapel Hill, Tenn., mostly had his way in 2007 while finishing 9-1 with a 3.09 earned-run average and earning Freshman All-America honors from Baseball America.

Described by Corbin this winter as “the next great lefty in our program,” Minor lived up to the billing by handcuffing defending national champion Oregon State in an 8-1 Vanderbilt victory on opening day Feb. 22.

Southeastern Conference play hasn’t been as rosy. Minor was tagged for seven runs in 6 2/3 innings in VU’s 7-6 loss at Ole Miss last Friday. In a March 29 loss to Arkansas, he was knocked out of the game after yielding five runs in five innings.

“We were hitting the ball but there was no help from me with the pitching,” Minor said. “I just couldn’t finish the deal. The last two starts haven’t been too good. That’s two weekends in a row where I haven’t helped out our hitters.”

Vanderbilt will likely need a quality start tonight from Minor to have success in a three-game series at Mississippi State.

The 19th-ranked Commodores are trying to regain their footing after being swept in a three-game series last weekend at Ole Miss, the first time an SEC team has swept VU in two years.

Although Vanderbilt bounced back with home wins this week over Western Kentucky and Austin Peay, its chances for success in league play rest heavily on the pitching of its ace.

Corbin said Minor is due for a strong outing.

“He’ll be fine,” Corbin said. “We’re getting into the fifth week [of SEC play] here, and I think he’ll pitch well. He’ll pitch well, and this is a good weekend to do it.”

POLK'S OUT:This weekend’s Vanderbilt-Mississippi State baseball series could mark the last time the Commodores go up against legendary Bulldogs coach Ron Polk.

Miffed by NCAA rules changes he believes will damage college baseball, Polk announced in March he will retire after this season. His 1,361 wins at Mississippi State, Georgia and Georgia Southern put him in the top 10 in career victories and fifth on the active list. He has taken teams to eight College World Series, including 2007, and been to the NCAA Tournament 24 times.

The NCAA Board of Directors last year approved rules changes that, among other things, will dictate how each NCAA baseball program's 11.7 scholarships are awarded. Polk and other coaches fought against such changes.

“I made the decision [to retire] as soon as we lost the vote on the NCAA baseball committee,” Polk said. “The NCAA has decided to put the screws to the kids and the coaches in college baseball. I truly believe that. And I am not going to work for an organization like that that I hated to begin with.

“The NCAA and I don't like each other. They don’t like me and I don’t like them. It has become a war.”

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