Tennessee Baseball at the 2023 season home opener. Photo by Rocky Top Insider/Ric Butler.
Tennessee Baseball head coach Tony Vitello met with the media to recap the Vols’ 7-2 win over Gonzaga on Saturday night that gave Tennessee the series win.
Everything Vitello said after the game, including quotes on starter Chase Burns, the outfield competition, Blake Burke, Griffin Merritt and more is below.
On What Gonzaga’s Starter Was Doing Well
“It’s repetitive, but there was a contrast in looks he was giving our guys. There was uptick and rise to the fastball, good drop on the changeup, landing the breaking ball pretty good. I think the slider was better than the curveball if I remember right. You know we’re always charting that stuff. And then we kind of just didn’t execute either. You definitely have to tip your cap to how he threw. It was a different version of executing on the pitching side, because (Owen) Wild was so dynamic last night. But Rutherford was equal to the task. The only thing I throw in there as an asterisk was we get one miscommunication on some baserunning and a couple of at-bats where I know guys wish they could do them over, but, again, it takes two to tango. Rutherford was making good pitches, and I think some of that stuff he has… we drew some walks, but it was part of the reason we weren’t barreling them up. Some of that stuff is moving a lot and shooting out of the zone even though it starts in the zone. So, if you can take it, maybe you earn yourself a walk or you get into a better count. But if you go after it, it’s tough to barrel up.”
On What He Saw From Chase Burns in the Second Inning
“Yeah, he got into a little bit of a rhythm, but I think it would’ve required a great defensive play, you race one baserunner, and then (Sam) Canton, kudos to him, man. When the coach gives you an opportunity, you get in there and take advantage of it. I didn’t do it as a player, so I don’t have the magic formula for it, but the guy took the best hit of the night minus Blake Burke. I don’t know if we should count that anyway. So, you kind of remove that Canton ball that he smoked up the middle for two RBIs, if I’m not mistaken, he was about as good as it gets. I mean him and (Chase) Do(llander), both are going through a really good lineup. There’s a good approach. There’s kinda some variance in there, there’s a bunch of different guys. You don’t have the same hitter one after another, and both guys were able to get into a rhythm. And when they didn’t have it rolling and had to challenge themselves a little bit, both guys worked out of trouble. Again, it was just that one swing a guy put the bat on the ball, but a good outing again from (Chase) Burns.”
On What He Saw From Kyle Booker’s Approach
“Well I don’t think it’s any coincidence he hits a home run, at this point, it’s the furthest and hardest ball he’s hit this year was with two strikes when he kinda calmed down and cut down on the stride a little bit and took a really short swing to a ball, it looked like it was a little bit middling to me, and foreshadowing to that deal was the at-bat, or one of the at-bats before. He just shoots one up the middle, didn’t try and do too much, took what he got, and then again last night, foreshadowing or just a good sign, he hits a ball down the third-base line. So, when he’s running out of his spikes trying to swing and doing all kinds of other stuff, you can almost kind of predict from the dugout, I don’t know if this is going to go well. But if he’s gonna stand in there and just hit, and use that hand-speed and strength he has, he’s as good as anyone we got, minus the guy we talked about a second ago.” (Blake Burke)
On the Outfield Competition
“We’re equal opportunity around here. So, try to sneak Reese (Chapman) an at-bat in there, he’s got all kinds of skill and I’m sure he’s chomping at the bit as are others. We’ll probably have at least one different guy out there or maybe in the DH spot that’s capable of playing outfield, and we’re running out of opportunities come SEC play. Now, first game of SEC play, it doesn’t mean the world ends or the world begins and everything’s gotta stand still, there’ll still be some some things that’ll take place and guys will have a chance to prove themselves and earn different things. But for now, we’re just kind of trying to spread the jam on the bread as evenly as possible by giving those guys opportunities and, you know, then it’ll be up to us to read to see what we think we have.”
More From RTI: WATCH: Tennessee Baseball HC Tony Vitello Talks Vols’ Series Win Over Gonzaga
On Conversations With Players About Consistency
“It’s really easy. But it’s easier said than done. So how do you do it? Probably all starts with mentality, because if you get to this point and a coach is willing to have a conversation with you like that, that means he or the staff are really excited about what you do when you are in the moment or are playing with an edge in his case, or you’re just even close to the best version of you. Kinda like when you go to the doctor, first thing they gotta do is point out what’s wrong, and then the next thing is, let’s get to the source or the root of what we have, and I don’t know whether to say ‘solve it’ is the right thing. But, like most problems, it’s a lot more simple than you think. And it’s about just finding the mentality that works for you consistently day in and day out. And then when things come up where you miss your pitch, or bad call, or a diving catch and now you’re 0-3 when you could’ve been 1-3 and you’re worried about your internet stats, what do you go to from there? And I know I like kids like him and CMo and Blake that play with a lot of passion and a lot of energy. But if you let that shoot all over the place, it can hurt you more than it can help you. So, again, that’s a part of it, just honing in that energy and that passion into the right direction.”
On Watching Blake Burke
“It’s fun to watch him play, because again, we mentioned Luc (Lipcius) last night, I think he’s really found a way to play the game hard and be intense but also kinda… I mean, I probably look like a goofball… I think people, I love that SEC fans take it serious, I want Tennessee to win, I love this league, but people act like it’s life and death. But this is recess. Everybody’s in costumes like it’s Halloween, and this is recess. He kind of approaches it almost perfectly. He’s into it, he’s prepared as well as anybody, and then when he gets out there, he’s playing just like Luc used too. And then to see the results you’re talking about, it’s fun. I had to yell at the guys for being too giddy when he put one maybe farther than anyone’s ever put one there. I don’t know. But, it’s fun to come to the park and know that he’s gonna bring some energy. Maybe you’re not into it or you’re a little tense, then you watch him go about it and it centers you a little bit.”
On Maui Ahuna’s Defensive Play in the Bottom of the Eighth
“You don’t want to sound arrogant, but kinda expected it. Or when there was the deflection, it was like, ‘We got the right guy to do this if we can do it.’ And anytime you see an infielder rush or try and do something absolutely crazy , unless it’s a Jeter playing the hole, which I think Maui has done before and made Sports Center for that, it probably wasn’t meant to be. But you see him kinda come in and approach it with composure like he did with the double play last night, it makes you feel like you’re watching a movie or you’re watching practice, and it’s like, ‘I’ve seen this guy do this,’ and of course he executed it. Now, for us to say that is one thing, to go out there and do it is very, very difficult. It’s why he’s capable of playing shortstop in our league.”
On Griffin Merritt’s Impact
“He’s been called Grandpa or old or whatever, and all it’s doing is recognizing in a friendly way is that he’s got more experience than anybody on our team. I’m not so sure that he doesn’t really serve as a bonus coach for us, especially when it comes to the outfielders, hitting, or just some of the freshmen that need to be pulled off to the side, and maybe they’d be more intimated hearing it from a coach. It’s pretty impressive, his leadership skills. And then he showed his first weekend, he takes one off the nose and was cut, and I didn’t even bother with our trainer Woody because I knew he wouldn’t come out of the game. He’s kind of a man’s man, was a good football player in high school, and then he can also play. All that stuff would be great, and he probably would have a significant role for our team even if he didn’t have the thump that he does and the ability to hit, but then he’s got that, too. I’m just glad he got one out of the park. We’ve probably substituted for him more than we really should or want to, and then of course he’s short the first two games of the year, so I’m all for him playing his best ball and the numbers racking up as the year goes on. Because having said all that, he’s also been robbed of a couple homers just by the nature of the wind or whatever is going on that day. Tonight was a no doubter, and I take confidence in knowing he’s got a couple of wall scrapers that he deserves in his back pocket, too.”