Vikings’ lefties are all right

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Warren Central pitcher Layne Tedder warms up between innings of a game against Ridgeland last season. Along with Zach Cox and Taft Nesmith, he's one of three left-handers who will anchor WC's rotation this season. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Warren Central pitcher Layne Tedder warms up between innings of a game against Ridgeland last season. Along with Zach Cox and Taft Nesmith, he’s one of three left-handers who will anchor WC’s rotation this season. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

As a right-handed hitter and a left-handed pitcher, Warren Central senior Zach Cox has some unique insight into how difficult it can be to face a southpaw.

“It’s just a position change,” he said. “Most pitchers aren’t left-handed. So all any batters normally see is the ball coming from the right side. As a hitter, I struggle to pick up the spin on the ball.”

Those differences and the problems they cause are what Cox and his teammates are banking on this season. The team will feature three left-handers — Cox, senior Layne Tedder and junior Taft Nesmith — at the front of its pitching rotation. Another lefty, junior Tyler Vroman, will be used out of the bullpen.

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It’s an unusual setup that the Vikings are hoping gives opposing hitters fits as they prepare to begin the season Friday night at home against Terry.

“It’s pretty unusual. I don’t think we as a team have ever faced another team with as many left-handers as we have,” Tedder said. “I think we have a lot of potential. That’s three starters, then we have people like Brooks (Boolos) and some quality right-handers behind us to mop up.”

The three frontline starters aren’t just novelty acts. All of them throw in the low to mid-80 mph range with solid breaking pitches. Tedder, who has accepted a non-scholarship offer to play at Hinds Community College next year, has the best velocity, while Nesmith might have the best command. Cox, an East Mississippi Community College signee, is a mix of the two.

“I locate my pitches and throw off-speed stuff and keep hitters off-balance,” Nesmith said. “Me and Zach are about the same, and Layne throws harder.”

None of them have yet established themselves as a true ace, but coach Connor Douglas said the depth they’re providing with three quality arms is making up for that.

“They’re thriving with it. They welcome the challenge with open arms,” Douglas said. “They’ve accepted their role and worked their tails off during the offseason. They understand that they’re the guys and our season is going to rely on them.”

Having so many lefties on the roster is providing another benefit, as well. Seeing them on a regular basis in practice has helped the team’s hitters become more comfortable facing left-handers. When one pops up on the schedule, Cox said, it shouldn’t be as big a deal as it might normally be.

“Taft and Layne are both really good pitchers,” Cox said. “Our hitters are seeing some of the best lefties in the state and we’re learning left-handed tendencies.”

While all three pitchers have good stuff on the mound, they also have yet to truly prove themselves as a starting pitcher.

Cox battled through some minor injuries last season that limited his time on the mound. He also plays first base and was a potent hitter for the Vikings, but had an 11.55 ERA in four appearances as a pitcher.

“We just told him to hit,” Douglas said with a soft chuckle.

Cox — who did bat .347 with eight doubles and 18 RBIs last year — said he did a lot of drill work in the offseason to improve his pitching and that the friendly competiton with his rotation mates has also made him better.

“I think all three of us want to be the number one guy, but all three are good about competing with each other and not against each other,” Cox said. “We’re going to make a statement.”

Nesmith and Tedder saw more mound time than Cox — each had 10 appearances — but most of it came against weaker teams in non-division games or out of the bullpen. Nesmith started three games and was 1-2 with a 5.08 ERA in 20 2/3 innings last season. Tedder was better, with a 4-1 record and 0.51 ERA in four starts, but didn’t pitch more than 5 2/3 innings in any outing.

Tedder’s best game was against Greenville, when he allowed two unearned runs, walked five and struck out four in an 8-5 win. Nesmith’s stats were skewed a bit by a six-inning outing against Northwest Rankin in which he kept WC in the game but allowed five runs in a 5-1 loss. Only one other appearance was longer than three innings.

All three will be counted on this season more than they’ve ever been. Tedder said he expected a few hiccups, but an otherwise smooth adjustment to being a full-time starter.

“Me and Taft started a few games last year and came in from the bullpen if they needed us. It’s not a big adjustment,” Tedder said. “I figure we have a lot of potential, but we’re young. We’ll have little mishaps here and there and work through them. But I figure we are one of the teams to beat.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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