There’s no shame in getting swept at Tennessee for Missouri - they’re the best team in America. With that being said, what is important to take away from that series is how will the Tigers bounce back? This week they face a beatable Kentucky team, and if the Tigers play their cards right, a sweep isn’t out of the question. Let’s break down the Wildcats to see what the Tigers should expect in COMO this weekend.
One year ago, Mason Hazelwood dominated for Kentucky. He was 3-0 and had a 2.13 ERA, but his season was derailed by Tommy John surgery. For the past year, he’s been on the road to recovery, and he’s finally got himself back to where he was a year ago, starting Friday nights for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Hazelwood has been eased back into the regular rotation, and this will be just his third start of the season with three other relief appearances as well. In just nine innings this year, Hazelwood has a 3.00 ERA with 10 K and 8 BB, but the more he pitches, the more comfortable he should get.
Expect Hazelwood to sit in the high 80s to low 90s and to give hitters a heavy dose of fastballs. For a lot of pitchers, regaining your breaking ball command is the final thing to come post-TJ surgery.
Here’s what Hazelwood’s start looked like last week:
The Cats’ Saturday starter is currently listed as TBD due to an injury to Darren Williams, so for the sake of this preview, we will assume the Wildcats will go in the same direction they did last week using Zack Lee as an opener.
Lee has a 4.38 ERA in 12.1 innings this season, and has never been stretched out. Expect this to be a bullpen game mostly. While Lee is out there, he’s going to sit in the low 90s with his heater and will mix in a slider and changeup.
Unfortunately, I could not find any Lee video, so we will move straight to the Sunday starter.
Sunday will feature the only arm who has been a consistent part of the Kentucky rotation, Tyler Bosma. He’s made seven starts this year for the Wildcats and has a 3.77 ERA in 31 innings with 30 K. His best start came against a talented Georgia team when he threw six shutout innings, but his last couple of starts have been less stellar.
Bosma is going to sit low 90s with his fastball and a slider/cutter with a changeup for his off-speed pitches. His slider is lethal and punishes lefties with it for a lot of his strikeouts. Against righties, he’s much more balanced in mixing his fastballs, changeups, and sliders to keep hitters off balance. Considering Hazelwood is still recovering from injury, Bosma will probably be the most challenging of the Wildcat pitchers.
Here’s what the rest of the Kentucky pitchers have done this year:
As far as hitting goes, Kentucky has a clear leader at the plate, Chase Estep. The Junior third baseman is having quite the year at the plate, slashing .344/.459/.648 with 9 HR and 29 RBI. He’s also the team leader in stolen bases having swiped 11 bags in 13 attempts this year.
Recently however, Estep has hit a rough spot at the dish with just one hit in his last four games, but that further validates the success he’s had this year that his numbers can still look so good despite being in a 1-16 slump. Don’t count on Estep’s slump continuing into this weekend with the quality of hitter he is, though. Expect him to slot right into the middle of the Kentucky lineup in the 3-hole.
Kentucky 3B Chase Estep has been one of the 2022's breakout performers- after hitting .252/.286/.329 in 2021 w/ just 1 HR, the JR is up to .479/.578/.896 in the early going with 4 HR and 11 total XBH w/ 5 SB and 11 BB/6 K. Has played 2B, 22 y/o @ draft. Started his day off w/ hit pic.twitter.com/SRJKyJnQXK— Spencer Morris (@ProspectSpencer) March 9, 2022
One of the players that Estep frequently drives in is LF Hunter Jump. Transferring from Arizona State, Jump has integrated seamlessly into the Kentucky lineup making the leadoff spot his home and becoming the catalyst for this offense. Jump is your prototypical leadoff hitter, knows his role very well, and executes it at a high level. He’s slashing .326/.405/.411 with 2 HR and 19 RBI while leading the team in runs scored.
Unlike Estep, Jump is on a hot streak at the plate right now. In four of his last six games, Jump has had multi-hit performances, and his confidence should be booming heading into the series with the Tigers. Missouri pitchers will need to be locked in for each of his at-bats to limit the damage that middle-of-the-order guys like Estep can do.
Another bat that’s displayed some serious pop this year for the Wildcats is first baseman Jacob Plastiak. This is Plastiak’s first full season as a major contributor for the Cats, having found his way to Lexington via JUCO, and he’s made the most of his opportunity. Plastiak is tied with Estep for the team-lead in HR with 9 and is the solo-leader in RBI with 33, all while slashing .279/.395/.557. Earlier this season he had a 2 HR game against Ole Miss.
Plastiak hits somewhere between 4th and the 6th in the Kentucky lineup usually, but based on his performance this year, it hasn’t really mattered what spot he hits in; he’s going to do damage wherever.
Here’s one of his bombs against Ole Miss:
Here’s what all of the Kentucky hitters have done this year:
Thursday | 8 pm | ESPNU
Friday | 7 pm | SEC Network +
Saturday | 2 pm | SEC Network