After a lackluster 20-game opening home stand, the Alabama baseball team needed a change of scenery. They found it 55 miles up highway 59/20 at Regions Park in Birmingham where the team took on the Birmingham Blazers. The Tide broke a four game losing streak with a 4-1 win on Tuesday night. Regions is the AA home of the Birmingham Barons. ‘Bama improved to 11-10, and the Blazers fell to 13-8 on the season.
The Tide used a revamped lineup and a trio of freshman pitchers to take the victory. Right fielder Chandler Taylor moved to left field, first baseman Hunter Alexander played right field, DH Cody Henry played first base, and catcher Tanner DeVinny, who has split time with Kyle Kaufman, filled in at DH while Kaufman did the catching. Tuscaloosa freshman right hander Deacon Medders received his first start of the season on the mound, and was followed by freshman left hander Garret Rukes and redshirt freshman righty Davis Vainer.
The pitching was outstanding, simply because they threw strikes. After a weekend of walk after walk, and extremely high pitch counts, the three youngsters pounded the strike zone and combined walked only two batters while allowing five hits with eight strikeouts and only one ninth inning unearned run.
‘Bama took an early lead in the second inning on a walk to DeVinny, a single by Taylor. a sac bunt from Connor Short, and a run scoring single by Gene Wood. In the fourth the Tide doubled their lead when Short blasted a long drive over the center field fence for his second home run of the season.
In the bottom of the fourth Medders looked to be in trouble when the first two batters reached on a single and a walk. Stephen Dobbs, cousin of ex Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, then hit a liner up the middle that shortstop Chandler Avant snagged for out one, then stepped on second for out two and threw to first base for out three and the first Tide triple play since 2014 versus Kentucky.
When Medders walked the lead off hitter in the bottom of the fifth he was replaced by Rukes. Medders lasted four-plus innings and 55 pitches in, by far, his longest outing of his Alabama career. Rukes induced two pop outs and a ground ball to end the inning with ‘Bama still holding their 2-0 lead.
Wood got things started for the Tide in the top of the seventh when he lined his third hit of the game, and fourth in his last four at bats, leading off the inning. Avant laid down a sacrifice bunt that was misplayed, leaving both runners safe. Kyle Kaufman then successfully sacrificed bunt to move the runners. Cobie Vance was intentionally walked to load the bases and set up force plays at each base. Alexander hit a long fly to right, just missing a grand slam, for a sacrifice fly and a 3-0 lead.
Rukes allowed harmless singles in the sixth and seventh innings, and got the first out in the eighth via strikeout. The next batter reached second base by error, and Vainer came out of the pen to replace Rukes. In his 3.1 innings Rukes threw 26 pitches and allowed two hits with two strikeouts and no walks. Vainer stranded the runner with a strikeout and ground ball.
Alabama added an insurance run in the top of the ninth when Kaufman singled and scored on a double by Alexander. Vainer gave up a lead off single in the ninth, but looked to have the game sewn up with two strikeouts and a lazy fly ball to left. However Walker McCleney couldn't handle the ball and the run scored and the batter reached second base. A ground out to third ended the game with the Tide on top 4-1.
Vainer earned his third save with 1.2 innings, striking out three and allowing one hit. Rukes earned his second victory of the season. Wood lead the hitters with his 3-3 night along with a walk, an RBI and a run scored. Alexander was 2-4 with two runs driven in on a sacrifice fly and double. Short added a sacrifice bunt to his home run and run driven in.
What Was Better?
Playing DeVinny and Kaufman at the same time was something that Coach Greg Goff has been trying to figure out how to do, since they both have been hot hitters to start the season. The move worked, with both having productive at-bats, while not hurting the team defensively. Taylor, who has strictly played right field in his two seasons, threw out a runner at second from left field. Henry made several outstanding plays at first base in his first action in the field this season.
The pitchers throwing strikes. So much this. After having the starters throw an average of 40 pitches in the first inning alone last weekend, this was a big key for the team. Medders got out of the first with only 10 pitches. The three pitchers combined only had 101 pitches in the nine innings. On Friday night Jake Walters was at 125 pitches after five innings, to put this in perspective.
A road trip to Columbia South Caroline to take on the ninth-ranked Gamecocks. Game times are: 6 p.m. CT on Friday, 4 p.m. CT on Saturday and 12;30 p.m. CT on Sunday. All can be found on SEC Network Plus/Watch ESPN App.
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