In order to get to know Vanderbilt better before this weekend's series, BTD did a quick Q&A with Christian D'Andrea over at Anchor of Gold. Be sure to check out Christian and AOG throughout the week for another side of the super regional. His answers are below. Enjoy!
Q. Sonny Gray is Friday's starter for Vanderbilt, how has he looked so far this season?
A. Gray has been solid, but the season seemed to have worn on him a bit towards the end of SEC play. He's had some dominant outings but also some just decent ones, especially on nights where he has trouble finding the strike zone (minor control issues come and go). Gray goes hard, but the team has had trouble getting him wins against elite teams.
He's almost always good for a quality start, even on a bad day - but sometimes that hasn't been enough. His last two outings in the postseason - against South Carolina and Belmont - suggest that he's trending upward with his performances at the right time, though. If he can put together a performance like he did in either of those games, Oregon State will have a tough time getting an opening game win.
Q. Beaver catcher Andrew Susac has compared Gray to former-UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer. Agree, Disagree?
A. The Bauer/Gray comparisons have some merit. Both are smallish starters who throw harder than their size shows, attacking with a mid-90s fastball and a dominant curve that they can use as an out pitch. Gray's edge over Bauer is his competitiveness. He'll attack batters with urgency, though there's a capacity there for him to get too worked up and wind his way into tough situations. Still, he's a legit #1 starter for any team in the country.
Q. What should we expect to see out of the Vanderbilt bullpen? A mixture of relievers, or just a long reliever and a closer?
A. Coach Tim Corbin has taken a playoff-style approach throughout the season's big matchups - lots of relievers to work whatever matchup advantages he can find. Fortunately, Vandy's bullpen is pretty deep; they're able to throw 2011 draft picks like Mark Lamm, Will Clinard, and Corey Williams in middle relief and starters like Jack Armstrong and Kevin Ziomek in long inning situations.
Behind them is closer Navery Moore, who has been lights out as a power pitcher most of the season (although bed-crapping outings against Florida and South Carolina are...worrisome).
So, expect a lot of pitching changes in the 7th and 8th innings, and plan beer/bathroom runs accordingly.
Q. The Beavers are a very young team, what about the Commodores? Are they very young, and which newcomers have made an impact this season?
A. Vandy's got a veteran squad this year, and most of their leaders are either juniors or seniors who won't be back in 2012. Guys like Gray, (SP) Grayson Garvin, (3B) Jason Esposito, (1B) Aaron Westlake, (C) Curt Casali and (SP) Taylor Hill are the heart of this team, and they'll have to provide the backbone to make its first ever trip to Omaha.
However, there are still some talented young guys who contribute - (LF) Tony Kemp is the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, and (SS) Anthony Gomez, (P) Ziomek, (DH) Conrad Gregor and (OF) Mike Yastrzemski are other underclassmen who will have an impact this weekend.
Rest of the Q&A after the break
Q. What is Vanderbilt's offensive identity? More "swing for the fences", or a lot of small ball like the Beavers play?
A. Lots of small ball. You'll see the hashtag #Vanderbunt come up a lot on Twitter. Usually followed by a lot of swearing.
Q. Who should Beaver fans be looking out for on Vanderbilt's roster?
A. Aside from the rotation, which with Gray-Garvin-Hill is a tough matchup for anyone, the middle of the batting order is stocked with upperclassmen who will be playing their last games at Hawkins Field. Jason Esposito battled through a (relatively) tough season that dropped him out of the first day of the MLB Draft, but he came back strong last weekend to earn Regional MVP honors (seven hits, four RBI, three runs scored, and a home run in three games).
Curt Casali, a senior, and Aaron Westlake, a fourth-year junior, both had great years and have lots to prove on a team that was one swing of the bat away from the College World Series last year.
Q. What's the hotter ticket in town, CMA Music Festival, Bonnaroo Festival, or OSU-Vandy?
A. The CMA Music Festival. No doubt. Have you ever HEARD Josh Turner sing? The man's voice is so deep it rattles every seat in LP Field. If you bring a girlfriend to the concert, your job is halfway done by the time his set ends.
Q. We've heard from a Georgia fan on BTD that called Vanderbilt's management of last year's VU-UGA series "dangerously irresponsible". According to his account of the story, Vandy officials waited until there was standing water in the dugouts to cancel the game, just because they wanted to pick up an extra win over a bad team.
Do Vanderbilt fans have a different version of the story, or do you think that they really just wanted a win that badly?
A. I can't confirm this one, but I will say that the groundskeeping crew at the Hawk has been pretty phenomenal - notably getting a field covered by two feet of water ready for non-conference baseball within days of the rain stopping - so it's possible that that played a role in waiting to call the game. Or maybe Coach Corbin wanted a couple of gimme wins for a team that was still in the running for a SEC title.
I'd ask Corbin myself, but that man's use of sarcasm and dryness has made me afraid to ever ask him a question again.
A. Vanderbilt in three games. Oregon State beats Sonny Gray in Game One, something like 5-4. Garvin throws seven innings of 3-hit ball in Game Two for a 6-2 win. Hill comes up big in the final start of his career at Hawkins Field, and THIS TIME the bullpen holds on in a series showdown between elite teams.
Of course, it could be a repeat of the Florida/South Carolina series, which would end with Navery Moore giving up a grand slam with his first pitch of the night and Vandy fans filing out of the stadium feeling exactly as badly as they do every year when the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament rolls around.
Still, I'm going with the 'Dores in a comeback effort.