Sam Selman entered his junior season with the chance to solidify a role in Vanderbilt’s weekend rotation as the Sunday starter.
He didn’t stay there long.
After opening with four winless starts and an ERA of 10.12, he went to the bullpen and eventually was relegated to midweek starts.
One month later, he has embraced his new role with a strong left arm.
Selman baffled the Belmont bats as he picked up his third straight midweek win, a 7-0 victory on Wednesday night at Hawkins Field. For the third straight week he matched a career-high with seven strikeouts as he snapped the Bruins’ eight-game winning streak.
“I’m going for the midweek pitcher of the year award,” Selman joked. “Things are just rolling real well. Good defense behind me. Timely hitting. I think I’m just rolling right now. I think I am getting used to it. I’m able to throw my fastball, able to get in there and establish the fastball early.”
Selman (3-3) pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just three singles. All came off the bat of left-handed Matt Beatty, whose leadoff single in the seventh led to Selman’s departure.
Belmont (24-11), which was off to its best start since 1995 and sits atop the Atlantic Sun Conference standings, didn’t get a runner past second base.
“He has a ton of talent. The kid has a tremendous amount of ability,” Belmont coach Dave Jarvis said of Selman. “When he is locked in and in the zone his stuff is going to be very tough to deal with.”
Vanderbilt (14-19) got the only run it needed in the first inning when Conrad Gregor scored off Mike Yastrzemski’s hard-hit double off the glove of third baseman Zac Mitchell.
The Commodores plated a run in the second and a pair in the sixth before breaking the game open in the eighth with three runs. They collected 11 hits and stole a season-high six bases as Anthony Gomez and Chris Harvey each had three hits.
The teams split the regular-season series after Belmont knocked off Vanderbilt 6-5 on March 6 at Rose Park. It also marked the Bruins’ first game at Hawkins Field since Vanderbilt ended their season in a NCAA Regional last June.
The Bruins have mustered just four runs in their last four games at Vanderbilt – all since the start of 2011.
They were also without two starters, who suffered injuries the night before in a win against Tennessee Tech. Designated hitter Judah Akers, who is riding a 14-game hitting streak, sat out with a sore hamstring. Shortstop Jared Breen broke his thumb while sliding into second base. He will have surgery on Friday and is expected to miss at least five weeks.
Despite missing key pieces of the lineup, Jarvis and the Bruins felt confident about their chances to beat Vanderbilt twice in the same season for the first time since 1981. That is until Selman started firing fastballs.
“We were a lot sharper [during the eight-game winning streak] but [Selman] is such a great talent,” Jarvis said. “Pitching and defense like that are going to slow an offense down regardless of how hot they are.”
In the last three outings Selman has allowed just five hits – including a five-inning no-hitter last week – struck out 21 and walked six in 16 scoreless innings.
It is a far cry from where he was more than a month ago, when he allowed 18 runs in his first four collegiate starts.
“I just wasn’t prepared probably for it as much,” Selman said. “But getting settled in, getting more starts, getting more experience under my belt is probably helping out a lot.”
With just three more midweek games and with Vanderbilt unsettled on a Sunday starter – three others have taken turns – Selman landing back in a weekend spot isn’t out of the question.
“We’ll see. We’ve got to get him back. He got us into the seventh,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “He looks good out there. He is breathing well. He’s handling himself very well. He is doing everything he needs to do to put us in a competitive situation to win.
"These last three weeks in the midweek we’ve needed to win some baseball games and because of his starts he has given the opportunity to do so.”