LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After spending the majority of April on the road, the Kentucky baseball team returns home for an eight-game homestand, hosting No. 1 Vanderbilt for a three-game series, with first pitch of the series opener set for Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The series will resume on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET and conclude on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
Kentucky (20-25, 4-17 Southeastern Conference) hosts the top-ranked team in the country in the three game series with the series-opener on Friday marking what some consider the top pitching matchup of the year in college baseball, as UK junior right-hander Alex Meyer (4-5, 3.32 ERA) will face off with Vanderbilt junior righty Sonny Gray (9-2, 1.91 ERA), with the two consensus first-round picks competing for the SEC lead in strikeouts.
The two strong-armed right-handers enter the series ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in strikeouts, with Gray leading the SEC in wins and Meyer leading the league in strikeouts. Combined, the two juniors have struck out 177 in 154 innings. Meyer enters the matchup coming off three of the best outings of his career, fanning 10 in back-to-back starts vs. No. 12 Arkansas and at LSU. Meyer leads UK and the SEC with three complete games, striking out 91 in 78.2 innings, allowing only 61 hits and a .225 opponent batting average. Gray enters the start with a staggering 1.91 ERA and nine wins, fanning 86 in 75.1 innings, allowing only 50 hits and 33 walks, with opponents batting .189.
The three games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer has tossed seven quality starts on the year, owning a 3-3 record and a 1.99 ERA in his quality outings. In his last three starts, Meyer has posted a 1-1 mark and a 2.31 ERA with opponents batting .179. In his career, Meyer owns 10 wins in 189.1 innings, ranking sixth in UK career history with 234 strikeouts. Meyer ranks as the SEC leader in strikeouts (91), strikeouts per game (10.41), shutouts (one) and complete games (three), ranking third in the SEC in innings pitched (78.2), second in innings pitched per game (7.15) and ninth in opponent batting average (.225), also ranking sixth in the NCAA in strikeouts. Meyer has been victimized by some tough luck, as the UK offense has hit just .277 with 4.36 runs per game in his 11 starts with the UK bullpen allowing all six of the runners it has inherited from Meyer to score, owning an 8.27 ERA and a 0-2 mark in the bullpen in his starts. In his last start at LSU as part of the ESPN Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week, Meyer was dominating allowing only four hits and three runs in seven innings, striking out 10 – including three strikeouts in three at bats of All-America centerfielder Mikie Mahtook. Meyer left the game with UK holding a 5-1 lead in the eighth inning, before the UK bullpen allowed LSU to score eight runs to post the win. Last year vs. Kentucky, Gray went seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and three walks, striking out six in a win in the series opener in Nashville. Gray late came on in the finale as a pinch runner, scoring the walk-off run to lift the Dores to the series sweep. In his start vs. VU in 2010, Meyer was good, tossing a quality start, going six innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs, walking two and striking out six.
On Saturday, UK will turn to freshman southpaw Corey Littrell (5-4, 5.80 ERA) for the start vs. Vanderbilt star lefty Grayson Garvin (9-1, 2.26 ERA), who had a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League. Littrell has made 10 starts this year in 13 outings, tossing 54.1 innings, with 21 walks and 40 strikeouts. Littrell lasted 1.2 innings in his start at LSU last weekend, allowing four this and two earned runs, walking three with one strikeout as the UK defense committed four errors behind him. Garvin enters the start as a candidate for a first-round pick after his dazzling summer in the Cape, adding to a stacked Commodore rotation. In 11 starts, Garvin has tossed 71.2 innings, allowing only 55 hits and 12 walks, striking out 67. During the summer, Garvin went 5-0 with a 0.74 ERA, earning All-Star accolades.
UK has yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday, the first weekend series on the year that sophomore southpaw Taylor Rogers (2-6, 5.43 ERA) has not appeared in the announced weekend rotation. A native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers has made 11 weekend starts for UK this year, allowing 80 hits in 63 innings, walking only 14 with 43 strikeouts. Rogers is coming off a start at LSU where he went 3.2 innings, allowing four hits and five runs, walking three and striking out two. Vanderbilt will turn to senior righty Taylor Hill (4-0, 3.03 ERA) for his 12th weekend start of the year. Hill has tossed 59.1 innings with only 16 walks, striking out 56. In his start vs. UK in 2010, Hill went 4.1 innings, allowing five hits and one run, walking two and striking out two. Rogers turned in a great outing vs. the Dores in 2010, going a complete-game in a hard-luck 2-1 loss, allowing seven hits and one earned run, not issuing a walk with one strikeout.
Kentucky has been led offensively by junior Chad Wright, who has hit .331 with 11 doubles, two triples, four homers and 29 RBI. Senior shortstop Taylor Black has added a .324 average with 13 doubles, two homers and 31 RBI, while third sacker Thomas McCarthy has added a .311 average with an SEC-leading 16 doubles, four homers and 23 RBI. Braden Kapteyn has batted .310 with six homers and a team-high 39 RBI, while freshman J.T. Riddle has added a .299 mark with eight doubles, three homers and 33 RBI. UK’s catching tandem of Michael Williams and Luke Maile have totaled 13 homers and 48 RBI combined, with Maile leading the team with seven homers and adding 30 RBI.
On the mound, Meyer (4-5, 3.32 ERA) has established himself as one of the top starting pitchers in college baseball, making 11 starts on the weekends and tossing seven quality outings and three complete games. The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder leads the SEC with 91 strikeouts in 78.2 innings, allowing only 11 extra-base hits in his 61 hits allowed. Sophomore Jordan Cooper (3-1, 4.37 ERA) has tossed 55.2 innings, while freshman Corey Littrell (5-4, 5.80 ERA) and sophomore Taylor Rogers (2-6, 5.43 ERA) have held down the weekend rotation. In relief, lefty Alex Phillips (1-1, 2.08 ERA) has made a team-high 22 relief outings, walking only one in 26 innings. Freshman Trevor Gott (2-4, 2.52 ERA) has two saves and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings, while senior Nick Kennedy (0-1, 3.38 ERA) has struck out 13 in 16 innings. Senior Mike Kaczmarek (0-0, 7.11 ERA) leads the team with four saves, while Kapteyn (0-3, 9.00 ERA) has charted two saves in his 14 innings, striking out 24.
Last year, UK was led by Wright and Chris Bisson in the series, with both totaling a team-high five hits and Bisson charting a club-best three RBI in the series. In the series opener on Friday night at Charles Hawkins Field, VU rode a strong outing from Gray, who tossed seven shutout frames in a 7-0 win, with Bryan Johns, Jason Esposito, Connor Harrell and Anthony Gomez each charting two hits. UK got hits from Bisson, Black, Keenan Wiley and Andy Burns. UK starter Logan Darnell went 5.1 innings, allowing nine hits and seven runs, walking four and striking out three. Jordan Cooper was great in relief, tossing 2.2 shutout innings. The two teams played a doubleheader on Saturday with rain forecast for Sunday, with VU plating two runs in the first inning of game one and holding on for a 2-1 win despite the strong start from Rogers, who went eight innings and allowed only one earned run. UK’s best chance to score came late in the game as Wright tripled to lead off and was left stranded. UK got two hits from Wright, Bisson and Marcus Nidiffer. Hill tossed 4.1 innings, allowing only one unearned run. In the series finale, UK jumped all over starter Jack Armstrong for six runs in the third inning, taking a 7-0 lead after the top of the fourth. The Commodores got back in the game off the UK bullpen, outscoring UK 9-1 over the final six frames, including a three-run inning off UK closer Matt Little and reliever Nick Kennedy in the ninth to post the 9-8 walk-off win.
Vanderbilt (38-5, 17-4 SEC) enters the series red-hot, ranking No. 1 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top-30 poll. The Commodores have been led offensively by slugger Aaron Westlake, who has hit .382 with nine homers and 31 RBI. Conrad Gregor has batted .364 with two homers and 15 RBI, while shortstop Anthony Gomez – one of the top contact hitters in college baseball – has hit .362 with nine doubles in 188 at bats, drawing just two walks and striking out nine times. Standout third baseman Jason Esposito has batted .357 with five homers and 41 RBI, stealing 11 bases, while former freshman All-America second baseman Riley Reynolds has batted .340 with 11 RBI. Senior catcher Curt Casali has hit .333 with two homers and 35 RBI, while freshman Tony Kemp has added a .313 mark with five doubles, four triples, and 19 RBI, stealing eight bases. Mike Yastrzemski has hit .298 with 30 RBI, 33 walks and 17 stolen bases, with centerfielder Connor Harrell batting .250 with three homers and 17 RBI.
Arguably the strongest part of the Vanderbilt team is its deep, talent-rich bullpen, led by closer Navery Moore (3-1, 0.40 ERA), who has appeared in 21 games with nine saves in 22.2 innings, allowing only one earned run. Mark Lamm (4-0, 2.14 ERA) has appeared in 19 games, while Will Clinard (1-1, 3.09 ERA), lefty Corey Williams (1-0, 5.40 ERA), Kevin Ziomex (1-0, 2.32 ERA) and T.J. Pecoraro (6-0, 1.57 ERA) anchoring the bullpen.
UK leads the overall series with Vanderbilt, 139-129-5, including a 70-47-1 mark in games played in Lexington. Vanderbilt snapped a four-game UK winning streak in the series with four consecutive wins from 2009-10, with UK last winning a home series vs. VU in 2009. Over the last 14 meetings between the two teams, UK has won seven contests.
Kentucky: 20-25, 4-17 SEC
Vanderbilt: 38-5, 17-4 SEC
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) – Lexington, Ky.
Friday, May 6 * vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt * 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 7 * vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt * 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 8 * vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt * 1 p.m.
Radio (BBSN with Neil Price)
WLAP 630-AM in Central Kentucky; WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville; online at UKathetics.com
Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday vs. Vanderbilt
Jr., RHP Alex Meyer (4-5, 3.32 ERA) vs. Jr., RHP Sonny Gray (9-2, 1.91 ERA)
Saturday vs. Vanderbilt
Fr., LHP Corey Littrell (5-4, 5.80 ERA) vs. Jr., LHP Grayson Garvin (9-1, 2.26 ERA)
Sunday vs. Vanderbilt
TBA vs. Sr., RHP Taylor Hill (4-0, 3.04 ERA)
Cliff Hagan Stadium (3,000)
Parking at Cliff Hagan Stadium is free.
UK will utilize three lots: the C8 lot behind Shively Sports Center, the R lot down the first base line and brand-new Parking Structure 7 on the corner of Complex Drive and Jerry Claiborne Way. Both parking lots are only steps away from Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Fans who park in the PS7 lot will be given a parking value card to exit the structure free of charge. Value cards should be picked up at the baseball ticket booth prior to the fifth inning.
SINGLE GAME TICKET PRICES
$5 - General Admission Seating - Adults
$2 - General Admission Seating - Kids/Seniors
SEASON TICKET PRICES
$35 General Admission
$55 Reserved Seating