Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.
Tennessee baseball head coach Tony Vitello met with the media to discuss the Vols’ series-clinching, walk-off win over Texas A&M.
Vitello touched on how encouraging it was to see the offense get an early start for the second day in a row, Andrew Lindsey and Chase Burns’ performances on the mound, Hunter Ensley’s big hit and more.
Everything Vitello said after the Vols’ 8-7 win is below.
On the difference between this weekend and last on dealing with early adversity:
“I think just playing ball. That kinda starts with the attitude and the energy you bring into the park that day. Then, when the game starts, and the biggest thing is when the game starts, if you think it’s going to go well, I hope you’re sitting at a big league game and you’re watching a perfect game by a pitcher, but other than that, it’s not gonna go well. So, batten down the hatches, compete, grit, whatever phrases you want to throw out there, but you’re going to need it and you’re going to need it for all nine innings, and today looked like you might need it for extra, and that’s typically how Sunday’s go, really, when you end a series. It kind of usually goes like it did today. Fortunately, we’re at our home field, so that changes things, too. But if you’re going to have success, if you’re going to play in the postseason or whatever, you gotta be able to get after it on the road. But man, these kids love playing in this environment. And I know it’s a tough environment to pitch in, to play in when you’re the opposing team.”
On how important the recent offensive success has been:
“I think it helps the confidence of the pitchers more than anything. Some of those guys were guilty of trying to be perfect. Obviously, our first two days out in Arizona, it’s a bigger park. We were kind of finding our lineup a little bit, guys didn’t swing it that great, they wanted to come out and be ‘The Vols,’ they’re gonna conquer the world. And some other games, too, where maybe we could’ve done some things to help our pitchers out. Hey, you gotta win and lose as a team. If it’s 2-1, you don’t say, ‘This is one play’ or ‘We needed to hit more,’ and if it’s 10-9, same thing. You’re gonna win and lose as a team. Part of that is just taking a deep breath and recognizing everybody is out there competing, I hope, and you all gotta work together. Sometimes you pick a guy up, kinda like our last two guys did today out of the pen, they were excellent. And then sometimes a guy picks you up.”
On Andrew Lindsey’s outing:
“It was great. Really the last out he got was the biggest out. But in general, it was really strong. And it’s really tough to go to the next guy because he wants to be out there. He wants to pitch every day, he’s one of those guys that has a really resilient arm, so I assume he’s available tomorrow. But when he’s out there, too, he wants to be the guy that decides whether it goes well or it doesn’t for the team. So, it starts with that attitude, and then when you have stuff like his, it helps. But again, I think the biggest thing he did today was get that last out that he got in that inning.”
On Chase Burns’ outing:
“If anything, Chris Burke deserves blame. He jinxed him, talked about how good he was throwing. But it was kind of the opposite of last night. It kinda was slow for things to get into rhythm, and then all of a sudden, you’re guy looks like he could conquer the world himself in Doe (Chase Dollander). And then today, it was the opposite. You almost don’t need to have anybody in the bullpen, we did, but then one thing happens and it kinda bleeds to another. But overall, you want your starter to leave the game giving your team a chance to win, and he did that. And then you get the blip on the radar screen with Kirby. I think that was kind of a, I don’t want to say freak thing, but an abnormal thing. Don’t anybody call me Tom Izzo, although I would like that. He’s a fellow Italian, and he’s a legend. I got to meet him thanks to Coach Barnes earlier this year, and that guy is funny and nice.
“But Kirby usually gets you of out of that jam and then bam he gets the next one, it doesn’t go well for us and that’s a great opportunity for the team to kind of fall apart. Kirby keeps his composure which might be his best asset and then the guys bounce back the way that they do. That’s one that formulates you as a team and gets everybody to quit talking about other guys that have played here two or three years ago, and what we want to be. You can’t just wish it or want it. You gotta play games and then stuff happens. I was joking, that’s what I told the ESPN guys. This team is starting to become just that.”
On what makes Jared Dickey so effective in high-leverage situations:
“His belief. Your self belief is kind of everything when you get down to March Madness or these games in the SEC. I mean, you see how high-strung everybody is. Home plate umpire does an excellent job throughout the game of keeping everybody calm but it’s hard to do when it kind of seems like every pitch is like that (high-leverage). You gotta have self-belief, man. If you start to doubt yourself you get exposed and if you have self-belief then it’ll go your way a lot. But in this game it’s not going to go your way every time. If I’m not mistaken, he smoked the ball in the first inning when we really would have liked to tie it up and it didn’t go his way. So, it won’t always go your way, but he is a — I like self-made guys and it’s not like he didn’t have talent. We recruited him here. But in so many ways he is a self-made guy and that helps his self-image which is pretty strong.”
On if he agrees with Camden Sewell’s comments that they’re starting to become a team:
“Yeah. Again, I think natural progression of time and events are going on. We haven’t had any special meeting or put up any sign or send out any video or anything like that. This is the time of year where you’re getting close to school being over with and you kind of now know some things. There’s less question marks and you just kind of show up to the park and play. As you do that, there’s going to be some things that happen. Like today, several situations where guys. picked themselves up or picked their teammate up, or got picked up themselves. I think it’s happened naturally or organically which is probably the best way.”
On how big it is for them to come from behind and win:
“Yeah, you gotta. You can’t do it until you’ve done it. That kind of focuses again on this sole group. We’ve been fortunate. There’s been a lot of those in this stadium and I think it has to do with this stadium. It’s just a tough place to play. And I know there’s other ones in our league like that, too. But ours is probably more unique or different than any other place. It can be tough on the opponent and it helps our guys. If I was going to bet on it, it was probably going to happen here, but once you do it, now you’ve got — back to that self-belief — we can do it again here at Lindsey Nelson and we’ve done it before, so why can’t we do it on another ball field.”
On shakeups in the lineup:
“Just looking at it and seeing if we needed to do anything different. Obviously, physically and mentally – I’m not very good at standing still. When you want to do better, you can’t force it but you can try and look at things from a different perspective. Really at the end of the day when you look at the lineup, you could almost flip it. Or you had a good feeling top-to-bottom as there was some depth there. But also, there’s a little bit of a signal to encourage those guys to stay at the ball a little better. I’m glad safety worked out on the ball Griffin [Merritt] hit because that’s a great example of what he’s doing when he’s at his best and what he needs to do. Even though some of those guys great days, I really liked how competitive the at-bats were from the lineup.”
On Hunter Ensley:
“At least to my knowledge, maybe he’s got some more thoughts there going on in his head in the first inning as he really wants to gear up and do well – you really don’t need to do that. You need to play. Maybe he settled in. But me and coach A [Frank Anderson] even talked about it during BP as we were walking around the field – the guy is a ballplayer. He loves being here. He grew up probably dreaming of playing for the Vols. I think that’s always special. He’s a fighter and likes to get in there and complete. Maybe sometimes he gets too excited, as mentioned in the first inning, but overall, you know you’re going to get a guy who is competing. That helps you sleep at night, whether it goes well or it doesn’t.”
On Camden Sewell:
“In his first outing here on the Sunday, two Sundays ago, he was really good. He was throwing strikes. It looks like he is more composed – I don’t want to say smarter – but it looks like he is ding things on a little bit more of an intelligent level. He’s got that experience factor. We even mentioned it in a team meeting we had a while ago, hey the bullpen has done well and roles are being defined, but help is on the way. We don’t want to gas out any one guy at this part of the seasons. But you have a guy with experience. Win or lose with that guy on the field, I’ll sleep just fine that night, even for a guy who doesn’t sleep that well.”