NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tim Corbin’s assessment of junior pitcher Drake Fellows is pretty clear-cut.
“He just gives us a chance to win every time,” Corbin said of Vanderbilt’s righthander.
Fellows, the Friday starter for the Commodores, has done more than give Vanderbilt a chance to win. In fact, he has won each one of his starts in 2019. As No. 2 Vanderbilt prepares to cap the regular season with a three-game road series against Kentucky, Fellows will take the mound in Thursday’s first game (5:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network+) sporting an unblemished 10-0 record. Those 10 wins are the most of any SEC pitcher this season.
A potential undefeated campaign puts Fellows in elite company on West End. The last Vanderbilt pitcher to record 11 regular season wins was Carson Fulmer, who went 11-1 in 2015. The last Commodore to cap an undefeated regular season was Tyler Beede, who went 13-0 and finished 14-0 overall in 2013. Moreover, Vanderbilt’s last Friday starter to finish the regular season undefeated was David Price (10-0) in 2007. All three of those pitchers have seen time on Major League Baseball rosters this spring; Price, the former No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft, helped lead the Boston Red Sox to a World Series title just last season.
Fellows said the notion of a perfect regular season is enticing.
“It’s pretty cool,” Fellows said. “I try not to think about it too much or I’ll get in my head a little bit. I just take it one start at a time.”
The Plainfield, Illinois, native reached win No. 10 last Friday in a 5-2 victory over No. 21 Missouri. Fellows struck out an SEC-career best 11 batters and limited Missouri to a .167 average in seven frames. He propelled Vandy to its 13th straight win and 10th in SEC games, both the longest stretches since 2013.
As a sophomore in 2018, Fellows slid into the role of Vanderbilt’s Friday night starter and finished with a 7-4 record and 3.92 earned-run average, leading the Dores with 107 strikeouts. That experience has helped Fellows evolve into one of the SEC’s most lethal pitchers as a junior. He has struck out seven or more batters in seven of his last 12 starts and tossed five-plus innings in 11 of his last 12 starts.
How has Fellows become so dependable on the mound?
“Just being consistent himself,” Corbin said. “He’s a guy that finds a way to compete all the time. He’s been pretty good that way since his sophomore year. He’s been in the same position, which has probably helped. But not only has he been in the same position, he’s been able to maintain that position, which is difficult to do.”
Fellows said his experience as a sophomore set the table for what has been a dominant junior season.
"I think it's just being myself," Fellows said. "Last year I kind of got my feet wet with the Friday nights, and I just feel more comfortable on the mound this year. It's just working hard every weekend. Definitely, the offense has played a big role in that, too, being able to get a lead pretty early and stay comfortable throughout the start."
Fellows could seal an undefeated regular season as a Friday starter this weekend against Kentucky. But more importantly, the Commodores could also clinch the regular season SEC title for the first time since 2013. Such a feat could send Vanderbilt into next week’s SEC Tournament with added momentum.
For Fellows, the opportunity to return from Lexington with a conference crown sits highest on his priority list.
“It’s a great honor,” Fellows said. “It’s something we hadn’t had the opportunity to do in the couple years I’ve been here … You’ve just got to stay focused on one game at a time. You can’t just look ahead and disregard any team in this conference.”