Opening With No. 7 Oklahoma State

No. 3 Vandy begins season with three-game series at Hawkins Field

by Chad Bishop

What will No. 3 Vanderbilt’s starting nine look like this weekend? Who will come out of the bullpen to try to get some pivotal outs? How will the batting order shake out?

Vandy head coach Tim Corbin understands it is natural to want answers to those questions right away. The veteran skipper also knows that’s not how things work.

“I think there’s a tendency to want to have everything figured out before you start playing, but that’s not going to be the case whether it’s a pitching standpoint or position-wise,” Corbin said. “I think part of that not knowing is just the competition and the sameness – which is a good thing. I think it will be very fluid in the process.

“I think part of finding out who you are is playing other people and that’s what we need to do.”

The Commodores will start to find out some answers and find them out quickly by playing eight games in the first 10 days of the season. That stretch begins in earnest at 4:30 p.m. Friday with the first of three games against No. 7 Oklahoma State at Hawkins Field.

There won’t be a whole lot of time from now until the end of the month to sit back and take a deep breath.

“You from a very little ramp-up time to not playing a lot to all of a sudden (playing a lot). So that becomes new territory for us as it does everyone, I guess,” Corbin said. “Looking forward to that challenge as well.”

Oklahoma State went 36-19-1 in 2021 and 12-12 inside the Big 12 Conference. The Cowboys were chosen as an at-large team into the NCAA Tournament where they went 1-2 in the Tucson Regional losing twice to California Santa Barbara.

Led by head coach Josh Holliday, a long-time friend of Corbin, Oklahoma State has been picked to finish second in the Big 12 standings. Holliday has three preseason all-conference selections, an All-American pitcher in Justin Campbell, the league’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year in Victor Mederos and the conference Preseason Freshman of the Year in Roc Roggio.

Vanderbilt traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma, on March 13-14 and took 2 of 3 from Oklahoma State at O’Brate Stadium last season.

But that series is a distant memory as the Commodores have plenty of new faces filling many important roles. While six primary position players return, Vanderbilt will turn to a bevy of new arms to fill starting roles on the mound and reliever roles out of the bullpen.

Cause for minor concern in the short term? Maybe. But Corbin has been reassured by the maturity of his relatively youthful team and is confident that it will continue to improve and stay focused on the ultimate goal as the season rolls along.

“Just general consistency over these past three weeks. I think that’s really important,” Corbin said about what he likes about the 2022 team. “Kids have a tendency to look ahead – their ability to stay very engrossed in what they’re doing right now is important. It shows maturation, it shows consistency and I think a lot of times when you do have a few older kids then the younger kids tend to follow in that order. But I would say just the general consistency of how they have navigated training is a good sign. Now what it means, I don’t know, as far as outcomes.

“But I go to bed at night sleeping well knowing that regardless of who we are as a team, that at least we’re intentional about what we’re doing.”

Starting Rotation Set

Corbin announced Wednesday the three pitchers penciled in to make starts this weekend against the Cowboys.

Junior right-hander Chris McElvain will be handed the ball Friday, junior righty Nick Maldonado will take the bump Saturday and freshman Carter Holton, a left-hander, will make his debut Sunday.

Maldonado finished with a 2.31 ERA with 59 strikeouts over 50 2/3 innings in 2021 and, coming into 2022, has been named to five All-America teams. He also recorded nine saves out of the bullpen in 2021.

McElvain appeared in 22 games last season, but only made one start. He went 5-1, pitched 45 2/3 innings, struck out 58 hitters and held the opposition to a .232 average.

Holton, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound product of Georgia, came to Nashville as the nation’s top-ranked left-hander (according to Perfect Game) and was drafted by Milwaukee in the 19th round of the 2021 MLB Draft.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.