The Vols pitching has been incredible so far. Currently the #1 Team in the country, the Vols have been equally impressive at the plate and on the mound, as the Vols lead the nation in batting average (.338) and ERA (1.89). The current three man rotation looks far different from what the Vols had last year:
2021 Rotation- Chad Dallas, Will Heflin, Blade Tidwell
2022 Rotation – Chase Burns, Chase Dollander, Drew Beam
The Vols lost Chad Dallas to the MLB, Will Heflin to graduation, and Blade Tidwell, projected ace and potential first-round pick, to an injury. To make matters worse, Missouri transfer Seth Halvorsen, who was projected to be the Saturday starter for the Vols, was also ruled out with an injury.
Incredibly though, the Vols still manage to lead the nation in ERA with an extremely young pitching staff. Burns and Beam and true freshmen and Dollander is a sophomore transfer from Georgia Southern. They are complemented by some bullpen veterans, with graduate Redmond Walsh, senior Camden Sewell, junior Kirby Connell, junior Mark McLaughlin, and junior Will Mabrey being the primary options from the pen.
The Vols will be getting Blade Tidwell and Seth Halvorsen back shortly which creates a pitching problem. With 5 guys potentially all deserving weekend starts, only three can be started. Midweek starter Zander Sechrist has also been extremely solid, and it would not be smart to waste these talents in weekday starts.
Upon their returns, it’s likely Tony Vitello will stick these guys in for small workdays out of the bullpen or in the midweek to see how sharp they will be. But once they’re at full strength, here’s how the Vols could work this out.
Option #1- Keep it the way it is
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With the success this staff has had this season, a smart move would be to let these three start as long as they keep producing. It’s no guarantee Tidwell and Halvorsen will be the same after their injuries. Why take the risk when you already have the production you need? Well, Tidwell might be off to the draft after this year and you’ll be wasting his incredible talent. Halvorsen does have a year of eligibility remaining, so Halvorsen could be a guy who you take it slowly.
Option #2- 2 in, 2 out
For the sake of argument, let’s assume current ace Chase Burns is locked into his Friday night role. Tidwell and Halvorsen have both proved in the past that they can start in the SEC. Dollander and Beam are guys who maybe are not top MLB talents at the moment but have potential. Why not save these guys and continue to build up their experience with bullpen appearances and/or midweek starts? Beam was never expected to start on the weekend anyways, and alternating him with Zander Sechrist for midweek starts would ultimately round out this staff really well.
Option #3- Tidwell in
Tidwell is the best pitching prospect the Vols have had in years, and likely a first-rounder after this season it would be dumb for the Vols to waste his talent. Tidwell would fit right into a Saturday role behind Burns (until he proves he is BETTER than Burns, who also has high-round potential in the future) and either bumping Dollander or Beam out. Dollander/Beam and Halvorsen would be great in the bullpen, which leads us to my next point……
Bullpen would improve greatly
Camden Sewell had a nightmare outing against Ole Miss on Sunday, pitching for 0.1 innings and allowing a 3-run homer to allow Ole Miss to pull the game into a one-run game. Sewell, who’s often been the top option for the Vols out of the pen, did the same thing against Texas, turning a 1-1 game into a Texas blowout for the Vols only, and Sewell’s only, loss of the year. Closer Redmond Walsh has had a solid season with three saves, including coming in for Sewell after he had a 3-2 count with the winning run at the plate, Walsh was able to get the third out and struck out the side with the tying and leading runs on base in the 9th. Kirby Connell has also been solid for the Vols in his outings this year. Mark McLaughlin, Will Mabrey, and Wyatt Evans have also been good in limited weekend action. Tennessee’s fireman, Ben Joyce, who clocked a pitch at 104.1 mph against South Carolina, has allowed some hits here and there but no earned runs thus far in his limited outings. But, the Vols still lack a go-to guy that can get the starting pitcher out of a tough situation. Putting Halvorsen, Beam, or Dollander in the bullpen will give the Vols a guy that can throw starting-pitcher type pitches , putting less pressure on the starters to go far and giving the Vols a reliable option before Redmond Walsh can come in and close out the game.
Simply put, the Vols have too many good pitchers to start, even with a nation-best ERA. Vitello will need to find and answer soon. Luckily, this problem is the besr type of problem to have. We’ll see how it plays out in the next few weeks.