For the second week in a row, freshman starter Chase Burns looked for answers on the mound in the midst of a tough outing. No. 1 Tennessee (31-3, 12-1 SEC) lost to No. 24 Alabama (23-12, 8-5 SEC) 6-3 on Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Burns was on the mound in the fourth inning when Alabama designated hitter Owen Diodati hit the Crimson Tide’s third home run of the night off Burns. That big fly put Alabama up 3-2 and chased Burns from the game.
The fourth inning unraveled more after that as Alabama tacked on two more runs. Burns’ book was closed with 3+ innings pitched, seven hits and five runs with four strikeouts.
“Any pitcher is gonna scuffle,” coach Tony Vitello said. “But let’s be honest, that’s two in a row here where it didn’t go as well as he wanted. (He’s) facing good opponents, but there’s probably some stuff to reset and tune in to what he was doing well in other outings.”
Burns has pitched just 5.2 innings combined over his past two starts. Going into his start on April 8 against Missouri, his ERA was 1.15. After Friday’s start against Alabama, Burns’ ERA is up to 2.83.
Tennessee’s offense was off to a scalding start Friday. The Vols scored two runs in the first inning courtesy of four straight two-out hits. It seemed as if they were ready to put Tuesday’s loss behind them.
However, Alabama starter Garrett McMillan was able to put out that flame. He held the Vols’ offense scoreless after the first inning en route to 5.1 innings pitched with three earned runs. McMillan gave up seven hits and four walks during his 110-pitch outing, but worked out of traffic on the bases.
“He wiggled out of some jams and competed through some jams. So now he feels really good about what he’s doing,” Vitello said. “They got him to about 110 (pitches), whereas maybe we could’ve knocked him out of the game (earlier).”
Despite the short outing from Burns, Tennessee’s bullpen will still be fresh tomorrow due to Will Mabrey’s appearance. Mabrey threw four scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
The loss was Tennessee’s first in SEC play this year and its first loss at home. The Vols’ 12 consecutive wins to open conference play were the most in SEC history.
Now, Tennessee finds itself behind in the series against Alabama.
“I’m not worried about it at all, honestly,” Tennessee designated hitter Jared Dickey said. “I know our team is gonna bounce back.”
The Vols have not had to bounce back from a loss too often this season. On Saturday, they will face a potential series loss for the first time.
“(We) just need to be ready before they’ll be ready,” Mabrey said. “I think we’re already looking on to the next game…We’re ready to get back after it and play tomorrow.”
Game two between Tennessee and Alabama is on Saturday at 6:00 p.m.