Skip to main content

Tony Vitello raves about potential of AJ Russell following mid-week outing

IMG_6598by:Nick Kosko05/03/23


Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello raved about AJ Russell following his latest mid-week outing for the Volunteers.

Russell was credited with the win after going 2 and ⅓ innings in a 13-3 run rule victory over Wofford. He walked two batters, gave up two earned runs, but struck out five.

Just a freshman, Russell showed something to Vitello in his latest performance.

“I’ve kind of said it to the team, ‘you can go as high as you want,’” Vitello said. “So, I don’t know if he can top ole Luke Hocheavor, but he can do a lot of things I think. It’ll be fun to watch him. I got all heated in the outfield one time is what I’m referring to and said, ‘when you’re starting on the weekend when you’re a junior’ — who knows, he may do that before. Maybe his role is something that’s really good, but it’s not meant to be that. 

“Again, I was just kind of going on a tangent at the time, but even when I blacked out in my thinking, I thought ahead to know well enough he’s going to be one of the better pitchers we have in this program over the next three years.”

Baseball is all about trust, especially in your pitchers. Vitello certainly trusts Russell.

“You got to have the right heart rate,” Vitello said of Russell. “I think I’ve said with you all before, we got a Braves hat on, [Kumar] Rocker was fun to watch do all kinds of crazy stuff. No politics, I’m not on board with anything he’s had to say, and I’m not against it either, but Rocker was a maniac. The better example, more fun one, is Charlie Sheen in Major League, to have the crazy closer. But the guy you want out there is the guy that is under control. Mariano Rivera, the same guy no matter what the situation is. 

“And for a freshman, him and Dylan Dreiling are two in particular, and there’s a few others in that class, too. [Andrew] Behnke was like that when we threw him out there for his first time right in the middle of the year where it just looks like they’re playing baseball. And we can ask them to do that as coaches, but it’s a lot easier said than done. So, he’s got good presence to him.”

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the On3 YouTube channel today for all of the latest news on college football, recruiting, NIL, more! 

Russell is a big part of Vitello’s bullpen. This season, he has 19.1 innings pitched, surrendering just four hits, three runs (two earned), five walks and 30 strikeouts.