There is still one more game before SEC play begins, but in the 16 games of non-conference play thus far, Alabama baseball has came, saw and conquered it all.
The most recent addition to that list: the shift.
Lipscomb was the first team to use the shift on Alabama this season, shifting most at-bats against designated hitter Owen Diodati, right fielder Tyler Gentry and catcher Sam Praytor, in particular. The three combined to go 5-for-33 at the plate (.151) but their issues were not exclusively related to the shift: nine of those 28 putouts came via the strikeout, taking the shift completely out of the equation. Eight more of those putouts came in the outfield, a product of hitting over the shift.
“I think now that the weekend’s over, I would say it’s probably 50-50 how often it was advantageous,” UA coach Brad Bohannon said. “We have all the bells and whistles and data; in my opinion, that stuff’s a lot more valuable as you get a little deeper into the season and you have more history on guys. You’ll probably see us be a little more aggressive with that stuff maybe a month from now once guys have 80 at-bats rather than 30 or 40. We’ve got a bunch of information and we’re always looking at that stuff.”
There were also opportunities where defensive positioning worked against Lipscomb, even in the case of Gentry. He led off the bottom of the third inning of Sunday’s game with a bunt single — an atypical move for a player slugging .755, but an easy way to get on base with the third baseman playing so deep.
With that being the case, Bohannon isn’t going to take his hitters to an extreme in avoiding the shift yet.
“You have to be careful with hitters,” Bohannon said. “If they’re shifting and it’s a valid shift, I’m not sure I really want Owen Diodati pushing the ball to left field, I’m not sure I want Tyler Gentry thinking about forcing the ball the right side because those are guys have power and are really aggressive. It’s a fine line of if they’re giving you something, you want to take it, but also you want to coach your players to their strengths.
“I don’t want Tyler Gentry bunting very often, but the third baseman was playing really, really deep and Tyler laid down a beautiful drag bunt. Hopefully going forward, the third baseman will be playing in because Tyler’s going to hit a lot of ground balls and hopefully that’ll help those ground balls get through the infield.”
Noting the Friday madness
Alabama’s 2-1 win in 13 innings on Friday was the 10th-longest time in UA history by time, four hours and 14 minutes. It was three innings short of a three-way tie for longest game by innings, with two of the three 16-inning games coming against LSU in 2013 and 2015. The other was against Vanderbilt in 1893.
UA did set the school record for pitching strikeouts in a game, striking out the Bisons 24 times. The previous record was 19 against Georgia on March 21, 2016, also a 13-inning game.
Freeman lost in the shuffle
It came with little to no fan fare, given UA suffered its first loss while a player and coach got ejected, but the Saturday game was William Freeman’s best outing of the season.
His previous two appearances, both starts in midweek games, lacked luster: a combined 4 2/3 innings with six hits and four walks allowed, allowing four runs. On Saturday, Freeman pitched four strong innings with two hits allowed and seven strikeouts, striking out more in those four innings than he did in his previous 4 2/3.
“He was able to throw a slider for strikes,” UA pitching coach Jason Jackson said. “He had a good breaking ball today, and when he needed a fastball he had it, too. That was good to see. That’s what we’ve seen from him in the preseason stuff.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson