Vanderbilt limped out of Palo Alto, Calif., last weekend with not only three losses to start the season but in search of its missing offense.
The Commodores scored only 13 runs and led for just a half-inning as No. 4 Stanford handed Vanderbilt its first 0-3 start since 1981.
In order to snap the skid, No. 16 Vanderbilt must wake up the bats and it starts at the top — literally.
Leadoff hitter Tony Kemp was an uncharacteristic 1-for-12 against Stanford. Kemp, on the heels of a Freshman All-American season, struck out five times, reached base just three times and failed to score.
His ability to manufacture hits and runs factors heavily into the Commodores’ success as they kick off an eight-game homestand by hosting Oakland (Mich.) at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at Hawkins Field.
“I’m working on my approach,” Kemp said. “Definitely the first couple ABs were a little rough but that will get better. It was a tough weekend.”
Kemp sits at the bottom of the statistics among Vanderbilt regulars, hitting .083. The left-handed hitting sophomore from Franklin hit .329 last year on his way to SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
At 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds, he possesses the speed to skip around the bases. He was second on the team with 17 stolen bases and hit seven triples — the second-most in school history — in 2011. He also scored 58 runs, which was the fourth most on the team.
However, he has to reach base first to showcase that talent.
“It is important to get him going but it is also important to get a lot of the other guys going as well,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I think there comes a time with kids that they try and they try maybe a little bit too hard to make something happen. I think that was the case with several of kids who have been in this program for a while. They’re tryers. They’re pleasers. They want to help the team and occasionally when that happens they squeeze the bat too hard and don’t let their natural abilities come out.”
Outside of two, practically every Vanderbilt player struggled at the plate last weekend.
Shortstop Anthony Gomez batted .462 and Connor Harrell hit .444 and accounted for both of the team’s home runs. The rest of the team hit .123 (10-for-81).
In fact, Vanderbilt’s first and third hitters in the lineup — Kemp and sophomore designated hitter Conrad Gregor — combined for just two hits and one RBI.
“Those guys will come back,” said Corbin, who has six returning starters from last year’s lineup. “I don’t really need to say too much to them. They want to assert themselves into the game for sure.”
No doubt, many of those hitters were not pleased with their efforts in the field either.
The Commodores committed 11 errors, including two apiece from Kemp and Gomez.
“Maybe it was just nerves. We don’t do that typically,” Harrell said. “I don’t expect that you guys should be expecting that in the future.”
Vanderbilt fans will have plenty of chances to see the Commodores over the next month.
Thirteen of the next 14 games are at Hawkins Field. Their one road game during the stretch is against Belmont at Rose Park on March 6. The Commodores don’t leave Nashville until their SEC opening series against No. 1 Florida on March 16.
“I’m looking forward to the days leading up to these games where we can train with them at home and work with them,” Corbin said. “We learned something about our team but I don’t know if it is the things you particularly want to learn right now. We understand we’ve got a ways to go. But that’s good. We kind of knew that going in.”