Vol baseball to start Serrano era

Catch up on Tennessee baseball with InsideTennessee.com. The Volunteers get their 2012 season underway this weekend at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Excitement has gradually built around the Tennessee baseball program since Joan Cronan and Mike Hamilton pegged Dave Serrano as the program's 24th head coach back on June 15.

Big Orange Country gets a chance to see what progress Serrano and his assistants have made with the players inherited by former coach Todd Raleigh and his staff when the pill starts flying around the yard on The Hill this weekend.

"I don't really want to talk a lot about the last couple of years, but I would definitely say this coaching staff brings a tremendous amount of energy each and every day," senior Zach Osborne said at Tuesday's media day. "They want you to play your hardest and with a passion that maybe wasn't there in the past. It's definitely a different experience, and I'm enjoying it right now."

Tennessee hasn't earned a bid for the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., since Rod Delmonico's final season in 2007. After going 108-113 the last four seasons and being home for the postseason, the Vols are anxious to reverse the trend.

"That was one of my main goals in coming to an SEC school like Tennessee was to want to play in Hoover every single year," Osborne said. "I haven't the past three years. That's huge. That's my main goal this year — to get to Hoover and play."

Serrano ended some speculation about how the lineup will appear this weekend.

At the front end of the rotation and starting this weekend are Drew Steckenrider, Zack Godley and Nick Bount.

Nick Williams is slated to be the team's closer. The Farragut (Tenn.) High School product got experience last season both as a setup man and as a closer. "I'm definitely ready for that role," Wiliams said. "That's what I play baseball for you know. Just being in that pressure situation and when our team needs me to come in and get the job done."

Vol senior Zach Osborne shows off the game hat for the 2012 season.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Serrano is widely known as one of the top pitching minds in the country after having led both Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine to the College World Series as well as being a pitching coach for Team USA on the collegiate level.

He has made every effort to drill into the head of the entire pitching staff that working ahead and keeping the ball low in the zone is of great importance. Various Vol arms also touched on the nine-on-one and pitch-to-contact philosophies where they are told to, if the situation allows, give the defense a chance to work and keep pitch counts low.

"My philosophy has changed a little bit," Williams said. "Last year I would try to muscle up when I threw instead of just staying loose. I would think that if I muscled up, the ball would go faster. Then, I realized less is more. So, when I throw the ball I just try to stay relaxed and loose and let it go. (Serrano)'s been emphasizing with us to throw low strikes and trying to maintain that."

' Tennessee's team earned run average under Raleigh were 5.38 (2008), 6.16 (2009), 5.88 (2010) and 5.28 (2011).

Steckenrider will have the pearl in hand when the Serrano era gets underway versus at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville on Friday afternoon at 4. The games on Saturday and Sunday this weekend are scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

Notes, quotes

The Vols, as they will each home Friday, will be sporting their all-white uniforms with Vols in script across the chest. That is one of five uniform combinations UT plans on using in 2012 with the other three tops being white with pinstripes, solid gray and solid orange.

"We don't plan on using the black BP top as a game jersey, but there's no reason why we couldn't," Serrano said.

The road gray uniforms have not arrived, but Tennessee won't need them until it flies to Houston, Texas, for a three-game set at Minute Maid Park on Mar. 2-4.

The Vols kick off their Southeastern Conference schedule at Georgia in Athens on Mar. 16.

Serrano plans to offer "suggestions" on pitch calling. He noted that he doesn't know what is in the head of his pitchers with two outs and a runner on third. The batteries will be allowed to think for themselves a majority of the time.

Osborne on Serrano's decision to have every player wear his pants at the knee-high level: "I don't know. It's taken a lot to get used to. I don't know if it's me being kind of short. It's one of those things that you've just got to do. It's growing on me; I'm starting to like it."

Osborne on Chris Fritts' mustache: "It looks like a caterpillar. I give him a hard time about it. I think he likes the attention. Coach said if he starts the first game with it, he's got to keep it all season."

To hear some of what Serrano said to the media on Tuesday afternoon, click play on the video below:

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