Vandy's only open lineup spot is DH

Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 9:26pm

Tim Corbin plans to use the early part of the season to figure out who can fill the role of designated hitter this spring. He is not necessarily looking to fill a hole in the lineup.

“Ideally, you’d like to think a designated hitter is a hitter who gives you something no one else can give you,” Vanderbilt’s coach said Sunday. “ … We don’t have the hitter right now who’s going to take the place of the hitters who are playing positions.”

Not after a three-game, season-opening sweep of Niagara in which the Commodores (3-0) batted .418 as a team and scored 46 runs. They capped the series with a 21-3 victory before 1,926 at Hawkins Field, which followed triumphs of 9-0 on Friday and 16-2 on Saturday.

Seven players started all three games in the field and six of those seven had at least three hits during the weekend. Some of the biggest offensive numbers came from sophomore third baseman Jason Esposito (4-for-6 on Sunday and 7-for-14 overall), sophomore left fielder Aaron Westlake (3-for-5, 6-for-12) and junior first baseman Curt Casali (2-for-3, 5-for-10). Esposito and Casali hit the first two home runs of the season Sunday.

“It was a great weekend,” Esposito said. “… I think we saw a lot more patience (Sunday). … It’s like team chemistry throughout the lineup. I thought it was a lot better (Sunday).”

The only spot that featured a different player every day was designated hitter. Junior college transfer Bryan Johns was 0-for-3 on Friday, freshman Connor Harrell was 1-for-3 with three runs scored on Saturday and freshman Regan Flaherty was 2-for-5 with one run scored and five RBIs (tied with Esposito for game-high) on Sunday.

All three were newcomers and each batted ninth in the order.

“I think if it’s a player like Johns (who hit .434 at Howard College in 2009), I’d have the ability to move him up in the order a little bit,” Corbin said. “(Sunday), just getting Regan in the nine-hole and letting him see some fastballs and just getting comfortable and not putting any pressure on him was a good thing.”

Westlake was the designated hitter for most of 2009. He typically batted in the middle of the order and ultimately led the SEC in batting (.377) and earned freshman All-American honors.

He moved to the field this spring but settled back into the middle of the order. He hit third in each of the three games.

Corbin said he would continue to look at different designated hitter candidates in the coming weeks. No one, though, should expect to see them moving up in the lineup anytime soon.

“The way the older guys are at the top … they’re all position guys who have hit,” Corbin said. “I’m comfortable with them, so a DH might just be a guy at the bottom.”

Briefly

• Corbin said there were lessons to be learned from the basketball team’s 58-56 loss to No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium.

“We had a good talk (Sunday) morning about the basketball game and how important I thought it was for them to see in terms of the toughness of the kids on our side of the court and how that’s so important in winning at the SEC level,” Corbin said. “I brought that to their attention and said that hasn’t always been the case at Vanderbilt. We’ve seen many a team that just doesn’t exhibit that kind of toughness.

“We had a No. 1 (caliber) team come in here and we bounced them around physically. I told them that’s the type of attitude it takes to be an SEC contender and a contender nationally.”

• Junior Chase Reid will start Tuesday against Austin Peay (4 p.m., Hawkins Field).

Reid is undefeated (7-0) through his first two seasons with the Commodores. He has appeared in 42 games, only five of which have been starts. He was 3-0 last season, and all of his victories were in non-conference contests.

“Chase is going to have his hands full with Austin Peay,” Corbin said. “They’re a good hitting team.”

• Senior shortstop Brian Harris was hit by a pitch once in each of the three games. He led the SEC in hit-by-pitchers last season with 21.