Will Clinard barely broke a sweat Saturday.
The Vanderbilt relief pitcher came on with two outs and two on — and the tying run at the plate — in the bottom of the ninth of last weekend’s series finale against Ole Miss. His pitch was a called strike. His second pitch was a called strike. His third was a foul tip into the glove of catcher Spencer Navin that ended the contest.
That was that. It also was typical of the three-game set in which no member of the Commodores’ bullpen was overused, a positive development with the expanded Southeastern Conference tournament set to start Tuesday, a day earlier than in previous years.
Fifth-seeded Vanderbilt, which faces Georgia, 8 p.m. (CDT) Tuesday is buoyed by the fact that virtually all of its pitchers are as fresh as can be expected at this point.
“That’s huge,” Clinard said. “Our starters were great for us [last] weekend. … That’s awesome. Our bullpen is fresh going into the SEC tournament and that’s the way you want to be. You never know how many games you’re going to play in there. You could play five or six games so it’s huge having the bullpen fresh.”
Presented with options, coach Tim Corbin announced Monday that Drew VerHagen would be his starting pitcher in the opener, which only proved the point about the bullpen.
VerHagen, a junior who has only two starts this season, was one of two Commodores’ pitchers (Clinard was the other) who made more than one appearance against Ole Miss. Yet he did not throw so much that he was not available for the quick turnaround. He threw a total of 27 pitches in 1.2 innings.
The move allows Vanderbilt to hold T.J. Pecoraro an extra day. It also allows for freshman Tyler Beede, who was not used last week because of a sore shoulder, more time to rest. Corbin said Beede would be available later in the week.
Pecoraro set the stage for the current state of affairs when he gave the entire bullpen a night off with a five-hit shutout of Ole Miss last Thursday. Sam Selman, in place of Beede, pitched into the seventh inning the next night and Kevin Ziomek got into the next on Saturday.
They did so against one of two SEC teams that finished the regular season with a batting average better than .300.
“Those are good quality starts,” Corbin said. “… You start off the first game of a series and you throw a [complete game] … if you had said would that happen I would not have bet on that. That’s a very difficult proposition. But [Pecoraro] started it.”
The early start to the tournament is due to an expanded field — 10 teams, two more than in previous years. That and the double elimination format creates the possibility that one team can play as many as six games over the next six days, which will require a lot of pitchers.
“We know what we’re getting into,” Clinard said. “It will be fun. It definitely will be more interesting with two more teams added to the mix.”
It will help to have plenty of available arms.
“It’s really important because you could play a lot of baseball there, you could play a lot of innings” Corbin said. “We’ve been on that side where we’ve played six ballgames before.”