March 20, 2018
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It doesn’t take long watching Tristin English to see that he can do a little of this and a little of that, or perhaps a lot of that plus more, so when Danny Hall chases his 1,000th victory as Georgia Tech’s head baseball coach this evening when No. 6 Auburn visits, he’ll surely feel better about his team’s chances with No. 11 back in the lineup.
English feels a lot better about things too, after missing last season following elbow surgery in the winter of 2017 in the wake of a fabulous freshman season where he earned first-team all-ACC honors as a designated hitter and first baseman.
Shoot, he’s even pitching now, which he didn’t in 2016.
English made his first career start on the mound Sunday, throwing three scoreless innings as the Jackets beat the Hokies 10-6. So, clearly, he’s been all the more effective this season in helping Georgia Tech (11-8, 2-4 ACC) in more ways than by leading the team with 28 RBI — tied for No. 8 in the NCAA.
He drove in 10 runs last weekend in three games against Virginia Tech, six on Friday night in a 16-9 win. Three times the Hokies walked catcher Joey Bart after he homered in the first inning. All three times, English followed with a run-scoring hit, including a seventh inning grand slam to all but clinch the win. All he did was go 4-for-5 at the plate.
“After Joey hit the home run in his first at-bat, they kind of made up their mind that they weren’t going to pitch to him and Tristin made them pay for it . . . it’s great to see,” Hall said. “Tristin makes a big difference in our lineup.”
The Jackets beat the Hokies in two out of three games last weekend, when Bart homered in each game. Tristin put a little English on each game with seven combined hits. He’s had multiple hits in five of Tech’s past six games.
While it’s been difficult to miss the run production of the third-year sophomore from Pike County High School in Thomaston; he drove in 10 runs in three games last weekend against Virginia Tech, whom the Jackets beat twice, there’s this dalliance with the mound which is equally fascinating.
Upon arriving on The Flats, he was acclaimed as both a hitter and a pitcher, yet Hall and his staff opted not to over-tax him as a freshman. He was offense only. That worked out well. He batted .315 with five home runs and 44 RBI, and was even better in ACC action, where he hit .368 with three home runs, 19 RBI and posted a .415 on-base percentage.
Still, Virginia Tech showed a bit of disrespect Friday not so much by walking Bart — twice intentionally — but by trying to get to English.
Yeah, he took it personally, although he outlined his offense with chuckles and grins on an evening where he tried for the first time as a collegian — and succeeded — to steal a base. Tech stole three bases, in fact, after stealing two in the first 16 games.
“I’m a speed guy,” he said upon entering the cubby hole room beneath Russ Chandler Stadium where members of the media burrowed in like ferrets. “Honestly, I’ve never been on the side that they intentionally walk to get to me, so it’s kind of an extra motivation; I know Joey’s a great hitter, but I kind of go up there with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder like I’ve got to do some damage here.”
The Jackets have will now their hands full.
Auburn (19-2) beat Tech 12-7 on March 13, and after the Jackets face Mercer Wednesday, they will travel to Raleigh to play No. 10 North Carolina State (18-3, 5-1 ACC), which last weekend swept a series at No. 14 Clemson one week after the Tigers swept Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack has been out-sized offensively to date with a .326 batting average that ranks No. 7 nationally.
Tech ranks No. 8 with a .323 team batting average, but Hall has been struggling to dial in starting pitchers beyond Friday night starter Xzavion Curry. He moved to 4-0 Friday despite giving up seven earned runs in five innings against the Hokies to see his ERA rise from 1.57 to 3.54.
Fortunately, the Jackets roughed up Virginia Tech starter Connor Coward, who already this season has become just the second pitcher in ACC history to strike out 11 or more batters twice in a season. In Friday’s game, 22 Georgia Tech batters reached base, and 16 of them scored as the Jackets were 6-of-15 with runners in scoring position and 9-of-19 with two outs.
Georgia Tech pounded Coward for 11 hits and six earned runs in 5.1 innings on the way to scoring a season-high 16 runs on 16 hits overall. His ERA went from 1.93 to 4.19.
On Sunday, the stories were again Bart — who homered for the third-straight game; reliever Andy Archer — who threw two scoreless innings and dropped his ERA to 0.68 two days after throwing three scoreless innings Friday night; Jared Datoc closing with 2.2 hitless innings; and English.
At one point in the middle of Friday night’s game, he was warming up in the bullpen for his potential sixth relief appearance of the season. That call did not come.
A text message from pitching coach Jason Howell to Hall late Saturday night, once the head coach was already at home, triggered the decision to start English on Sunday.
“I said if that’s what you want to do, that’s what we’ll do,” Hall said.
Then, Hall threw a little Latin at the Hokies for three innings.
Virginia Tech mustered three hits, and English walked one and struck out one with a pitch count not to rise above 45. He threw 39. Oh, and he had two hits and drove in two runs, first as the pitcher and then as the designated hitter.
“We think he’s been throwing well. We need him to start,” Hall said after the game. “We’ve kind of just been building his innings and his pitches, and thought he did a great job getting off to a good start.”
Tech got off to a good start Sunday, when English on the mound wasn’t the only changeup Hall tossed out.
A lot of computer stuff went into these decisions, the key move to follow a trend of Major League Baseball and move a bopper — Bart, who has a team-high eight home runs — into the No. 2 hole behind a speedy teammate (Murray).
It all worked pretty well.
Tech’s top five hitters registered 11 of the Jackets’ 15 hits, scored nine and drove in eight. Murray and Bailey scored three times each.
“[Thursday] we went over our hitting with runners in scoring position, and with runners on third with less than two outs and they were atrocious,” English said after driving in a pair of runs. “We were top 50, 15 in most hitting categories, and then near the bottom and so [Thursday] we worked on situational hitting.”
Tonight will be interesting as Hall seeks to grow his Tech record of 999 wins and all-time career mark of 1,207 victories another notch higher.
You might call him old school, at least until you consider that he made the batting lineup changes Sunday after consultation with assistant coach and former catcher Mike Nickeas.
“That was straight analytics, and that’s kind of what it spit out, that Bart should be hitting in the two hole,” Hall said. “That was Mike . . . he’s kind of into the computer stuff. We were trying to figure some things out this week with our lineups.”